Lords reform fiasco threatens to kibosh Clegg deal with Labour

Ed Miliband would be far happier doing a deal with Vince Cable – and they could get Lords reform right this time

Column LAST UPDATED AT 10:28 ON Tue 7 Aug 2012

THE TORIES and their Lib Dem coalition partners may be at war but a coruscating attack on Nick Clegg's incompetence by Labour grandee Lord Falconer has increased speculation that Clegg will have to go before Ed Miliband will do a power-sharing deal with the Lib Dems.

Labour could have stood back and enjoyed the sight of the coalition bust-up over Lords reform and boundary changes.

But appearing on BBC TV's Newsnight last night, ‘Charlie' Falconer, Labour's justice spokesman in the Lords, weighed into Clegg like an Olympic heavyweight for producing a flawed bill on Lords reform – flawed because it would have created elected senators for 15 years without facing re-election.

"He's produced a terrible bill," said Falconer. "He didn't do the work and he has got his comeuppance."

Team Miliband regard Clegg as a closet Tory - and there is no love lost in reverse. In his statement accusing the Tories of breaking the coalition agreement, Clegg weighed into Labour for voting against his bill with Tory rebels.

The only winner out of this historic breach in the coalition is Vince Cable, the Lib Dem Business Secretary.

Cable, an old Labour leftie, has recently dropped heavy hints that he would be prepared to bid for the Lib Dem leadership if Clegg fell under a fuel- efficient bus.

Ed Miliband would be far happier doing a deal with Cable after the next election and they could revisit Clegg's flawed reform of the Lords, get it right this time, and give the Lib Dems a hold on power in the second chamber.

Meanwhile Tory MPs are furious with Clegg for confirming that in a tit-for-tat for Cameron's decision to ditch Lords reform, the Lib Dems will vote against boundary changes which could give the Tories 20 more seats at the election.

Tim Montgomery, editor of ConservativeHome, says all trust in the coalition has gone and accuses Clegg of "porky pies". The Guardian excitedly says Clegg's "barely concealed sense of betrayal and raw language will fuel speculation that the events spell the beginning of the end of the coalition".

The Mole hears the Lib Dems want the coalition to hold until the election so that they can focus on getting the economy right. They have to. If they had to face an election before 2015 they would be slaughtered.

The real risk is to Clegg. He will be hailed as a hero by his party conference next month for standing up to the Tories, but it looks increasingly likely Clegg will have to be sacrificed if the Lib Dems want to share power with Labour.

Two years ago, it was Clegg who demanded Gordon Brown's removal as the condition of a Lib Dem pact with Labour. Now the boot is on the other foot. ·