Vince Cable promised the Tories yesterday that the Liberal Democrats are not trying to use threats to get legislation to reform the House of Lords onto the statute book.
Privately, Tory whips say there is a high chance that the Coalition is about to be defeated for the first time in a Commons vote on an important piece of legislation, when MPs vote tomorrow on whether to set a strict time limit on discussion about Lords reform.
Tory rebels have been angered rather than put off by a warning made last week by Nick Clegg's former adviser Richard Reeves, who told The Independent that if Lords reform is blocked, the Lib Dems may retaliate by blocking a Tory proposal to cut the number of MPs in the Commons.
Senior Liberal Democrats were trying yesterday to soften the impact of Mr Reeves's threat without actually going back on it. The official party line is that "Richard was speaking as Richard".
The Business Secretary Vince Cable, told the BBC's Andrew Marr programme: "We are not threatening, we are working in a businesslike way our Conservative colleagues."
He added: 'We are not talking about walking away. That isn't an issue. But there is absolutely no reason why this vote should be lost."
The Foreign Office minister, Jeremy Browne, insisted that the whole coalition agreement had to be treated as a "package" and denied that Tory rebels had a right to be angry about Mr Reeves's warnings. "I don't see why anyone should be enraged and I don't see them as threats," he said.
The threat provoked a sharp exchange yesterday between the rebel Tory Nadine Dorries – who claimed that there are more than 100 Tory MPs ready to vote against the Government – and the former Lib Dem leader, Charles Kennedy. Speaking on Sky's Murnaghan programme, Ms Dorries demanded: "Why are you blackmailing us?" while Mr Kennedy accused her of inventing "a conspiracy theory".
David Cameron's chances of holding the Tory party together during tomorrow's vote received another blow at the weekend when it emerged that 36 peers, including nine former conservative Cabinet ministers, have signed a letter encouraging the Tory rebels not to back down.
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