Isabel Hardman

Harman tries to play ball with Clegg on boundaries

Harman tries to play ball with Clegg on boundaries
Text settings

Nick Clegg didn't mention the boundary reforms once in the statement he gave to the House of Commons on the death of the House of Lords Reform Bill. The Deputy Prime Minister knew he wouldn't need to wait long for an opportunity to talk about it, though, and he was right: Harriet Harman raised the changes to constituencies as soon as she stood up to respond.

Seizing on the Liberal Democrats' decision to oppose the changes as revenge for the failure of their attempts to reform the upper chamber, Harman told Clegg that Labour thought the work of the Boundary Commission should stop immediately, given the cost of it continuing with work which will be voted down in the House of Commons. 'The ball is in his court,' she told the chamber.

But the Conservatives remain confident that the reforms will go through. The Prime Minister's official spokesman this afternoon insisted that 'it's the law' for there to be a vote on the changes. Those at the top privately suspect that when the time for the vote comes round next year, Nick Clegg and his colleagues may find it expedient for various reasons to submit to the changes and support them. And while Clegg was clear at the start of August that he had told the Prime Minister that his party would vote against the boundaries, I understand David Cameron did not come away from that particular conversation believing the two men had agreed that this sort of rebellion would be acceptable.

Harman knows that her party will be the beneficiary of the failure of the boundary reforms. She was also trying to position Labour on the side of the public by making this debate about cost: stop the Commission from working out constituency boundaries that will never come into force and save the government some money.

Clegg is currently bellowing rather forcefully in the chamber and continually criticising Labour as he continues to answer question from MPs. He also gave Harman '10 out of 10 for insincerity' when he responded to her statement. The ball isn't really in his court to play a rally with Labour on this anyway: as Number 10 pointed out this afternoon, there is an act of parliament which means this vote must be held.