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News, gossip and insight from PoliticsHome Editor Paul Waugh

Collective breakdown

The deep fissure in the Coalition over boundary changes was underlined starkly when Lib Dem ministers voted in the Lords last night.

Number 10 revealed today that the PM and DPM had formally agreed yesterday afternoon to 'set aside' the usual rules of Government collective responsibility to allow the Libs their freedom.

This is big potatoes in the beltway. Downing Street confirmed this was the first time under this Coalition that such a big step has been taken. Indeed it was so important in Whitehall terms that the Cabinet Secretary had to formally witness and minute Cam and Clegg's 'agreement' to suspend collective responsibility.

No.10 stressed today that this was all a 'very specific' exception to the normal harmony of the Coalition and that the ministerial code allowed for such a move as long as both party leaders agreed it.

While it would be bonkers to suggest this is fatal to the Coalition (it was a simple case of tit-for-tat over Lords reform), it is a serious crack in relations between the parties.

Which brings me to two little factoids from last night's Lords vote.

First, it wasn't just the 60th Government defeat in the Lords, it was the highest ever percentage turnout Labour vote (88% of their number). Of the 300 Lords who defeated the Government, just under 200 were Labour and 72 Lib Dems.

Second, there was a fascinating vignette of Lib-Lab cooperation as Susan Kramer assisted a limping Labour peer Maurice (father of Robert) Peston as they came out of the same voting lobby.  One insider who observed this incident joked: "It's akin to 'he 'aint heavy, but he's - for the time being - my brother...'"

No wonder Conservative peers are less than amused.

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