NICK Clegg yesterday led his Liberal Democrat MPs through the “No” lobby to vote down a government bill which would have redrawn parliamentary constituencies for the 2015 general election to the likely benefit of the Conservatives.
In the deepest split yet between the coalition parties, Lib Dems combined with Labour and smaller parties, including the SNP, to delay the implementation of the boundary review – thought to be worth about 20 extra seats to the Tories – until 2018.
For the first time since the coalition’s formation in 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to set aside the convention of collective responsibility and allow Lib Dem ministers to vote against the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill.
The Lib Dems abandoned their agreement to back the review after Tory back-bench MPs blocked reform of the House of Lords last year. The government was defeated by 334 votes to 292.
Opening the debate, Tory leader of the House Andrew Lansley said: “The principle of greater equality in the value of each vote is at the heart of this boundary review. There can be no justification for retaining the current inequality. I have heard no argument that changes this.”
Conservatives claimed that the Lib Dems had reneged on the coalition agreement to support the boundary changes in exchange for a referendum on electoral reform.
Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg, below, had previously claimed that Lords reform and boundary changes were not linked, but after a Tory back-bench rebellion blocked his hopes of bringing elections to the Upper House, he changed his mind and told his MPs to oppose the boundary review.
Tory Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt accused the Lib Dems of being motivated by “spite, pettiness and self-interest”, adding that their “code of conduct” now amounted to “an eye for a coalition eye”.
The SNP welcomed the Tory defeat, and said earlier speculation that it was considering voting with the Conservatives was “ludicrous”.
SNP MP Pete Wishart said: “We had no intention of supporting the Conservatives in any vote on the boundaries plan and no discussions took place. The only other party working for the Tories is Labour in the “No” campaign, working to keep Scotland governed by Conservatives at Westminster.”