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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Britain’s unhappy political marriage grows bitter

Frustration mounts as squabbling threatens to tear the UK government apart. 

LONDON, UK — Danny Smith’s long list of grievances starts with the two years since he’s been paid to pick up his drumsticks.

Cameron, Clegg and spouses: Not all marriages are made in heaven. 
(Stefan Rousseau/AFP/Getty Images)
Cameron clegg 08 13 2012So it’s no surprise the unemployed musician is unimpressed by the government’s decision to abandon what promised to be one of its signature achievements: reforming the House of Lords, the unelected, somewhat anachronistic upper chamber of parliament that has long been a target for democracy campaigners.

“I couldn’t care two hoots, to be honest,” said Smith, 58, after another fruitless visit to a state-run job center in northwest London. “Those bastards are just looking after themselves.”

He is right to an extent. Last week’s announcement by Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, that his Liberal Democrats are shelving their campaign to overhaul the House of Lords revealed a government hobbled by competing self-interests.

It also spoke volumes about the fragility of the alliance between Clegg’s centrist LibDems, as they’re known, and their senior coalition partners, the right-wing Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron. Some now question whether their unlikely marriage, made in 2010, will last until elections in 2015.

Lords are currently appointed after being nominated by the prime minister or other political leaders. Their main role is to examine and revise legislation approved by the Commons.

The LibDems have long harbored ambitions to overhaul the chamber by introducing elected seats and making it easier to kick out idle members — chiefly hereditary peers who lean politically toward the right — who have helped keep Liberal ideology on the fringes of British politics for nearly a century.

The Conservatives pledged to support the House of Lords reform under the coalition deal they struck with the LibDems to wrest power from the center-left Labour Party in 2010. All three main parties included the issue in their election manifestos.

But the plan fell apart under pressure from Conservative lawmakers — and many from Labour — who opposed the overhaul, saying they feared a mostly elected upper chamber would challenge the dominance of the lower House of Commons.

Resigned to inevitable defeat, a frustrated Clegg issued a counter-strike: The LibDems would withdraw their endorsement of Conservative plans to redraw election-district boundaries, which promised to deliver them at least 20 safe seats.

That will have major ramifications for the next election, raising the likelihood of a Labour government or a Labour-LibDem coalition.

“Lords reform and boundaries are two, separate parliamentary bills,” Clegg said. “But they are both.

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