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News, gossip and insight from PoliticsHome Editor Paul Waugh

The Forced Marriage Cracks

It’s a big day for the Coalition’s very own forced marriage as Nick Clegg appears at Leveson and his MPs abstain over Jeremy Hunt and BSkyB.

With new rules on divorced parents’ rights and gay marriage rows rumbling on, troublesome relationships seem to be the political theme of today and Ed Miliband will be tempted to pounce on the Government’s uncivil partnership at PMQs at noon. Fortunately for the PM, Clegg's Leveson stint means he won't be present in the Chamber.

Number 10 is sanguine about Clegg's decision to lets his MPs abstain on the Labour motion on Hunt today. Some see it as just another example of 'mature Coalition politics', letting the other side let off steam.

But things are far from easy. Rather unusually, Clegg and Cameron raised their voices with each other when discussing the Hunt issue in private, I hear. The DPM was furious he was not consulted when the PM decided to give Hunt a swift endorsement after his Leveson appearance. The PM's decision to refer Baroness Warsi to Alex Allan makes the Government look inconsistent, the Libs mutter.

Tory backbenchers are far from happy that the Lib Dems abstention has forced a drastic whipping operation too. The Rose Garden honeymoon of 2010 is well and truly over, but for Swindon North MP Justin Tomlinson his honeymoon is rather literally now over.

Justin has been hauled back from his Maldives holiday to attend tonight. He got married in St Mary's chapel just before the Jubilee so his wife clearly likes the Commons, but perhaps not that much.

More irritated is Tory backbencher Glyn Davies, who has been forced to miss a funeral today. He Tweeted last night: "Tonight I utterly dislike the Lib Dems. They've decided not to support the Gov't tomorrow. So I can't now attend Stuart's funeral back home."

This morning Davies tweeted: "Nothing much I can do about it. Hugely disappointing consequence of being an MP".

The vote itself is yet another example of Labour using Parliamentary procedure to effect political pressure on the whole BSkyB issue. Don’t forget it was Miliband’s big call last year to hold a Commons debate on the takeover (in the wake of the Dowler revelations) that forced News Corp to pull its bid on the same day. Back then, Miliband himself wrote the motion, I hear. (One more reason why that debate has been shortlisted for our PoliticsHome Awards Moment of the Year)

Of course, Opposition Day motions often don’t amount to a hill of beans and even if the Government loses (which will be difficult even though the nationalist parties and Green have added names to them motion) it can shrug it off as a Parliamentary sideshow. But what matters is the way the Lib Dems have used it as an excuse to put distance between themselves and the Tories. 

Technically speaking, there is no problem with collective responsibility as this is an Opposition rather than Government motion.  The last time the Libs ordered their MPs to abstain was on the DUP motion on the PM’s EU veto. That didn't stop the world turning or the Coalition from functioning.

But the real danger is that the morale of Tory backbenches worsens. And that isn't helped by strong whipping.

And everyone knows that whenever an apparently liberal couple tells the world they are in a so-called 'open relationship', that relationship is doomed.

 

 

UPDATE: I hear that the Tory whips were telling their MPs last night that Hunt himself will lead the debate. That would be unusual given that he is the subject of the censure motion, but it would indicate a certain defiance and support from the PM. Let's see if he still does.

 

 

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