THE GOVERNMENT suffered a bloodied nose late last night after Prime Minister David Cameron endured the biggest rebellion from his own party since arriving in Downing Street over two years ago.
Around 90 Tory MPs voted against the House of Lords reform bill, despite the coalition dropping the most contentious element of the legislation earlier in the day.
In a humiliating climbdown to get Labour on board, the government had scrapped the so-called programme motion – a strict timetable required to force the reforms through in time for the next scheduled general election in 2015.
The Labour party – which promised reform of the upper house in its 2010 manifesto – pledged to support the bill so long as the timetable was removed, arguing that the issue required more time for debate.
With all three main parties supporting the bill’s second reading, it passed by 462 votes to 124. But unless a timetable is reintroduced, perhaps after the MPs’ summer break, the reforms stand little chance of proceeding into law.
Opponents in the Commons plan to use delaying tactics to prevent the bill from progressing.
And the large scale of the Conservative rebellion against a key Liberal Democrat measure now threatens to tear the coalition apart.
Senior Lib Dem David Laws hit out at the Tories following the vote, arguing that they could crack the coalition apart if the bill is destabilised. “My colleagues in the party will say: ‘Look, if the Conservatives are not keeping their promises to us, why should we keep our promises to them?’ So that’s very dangerous,” Laws told the BBC.
Yet many Conservatives remain vehemently opposed to the proposals, which would involve the election of some peers to 15-year fixed terms.
Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson took to Twitter to warn the PM against pursuing the reforms. “Memo to David Cameron: Not a good idea for our party morale to ram through two major issues (EU and Lords Reform) using Labour MPs’ votes,” he wrote.
Last night Ealing Central and Acton MP Angie Bray was sacked from her position as parliamentary private secretary to cabinet office minister Francis Maude, after defying the Tory whip in order to vote against the bill.
Fellow Conservative MP Conor Burns also lost his government job due to his opposition to the bill.