by Ray Fleming

When the Liberal Democrats were persuaded to join a government coalition with the Conservatives two years ago the agreement provided for two Liberal Democrat policies to be given priority. One was for a referendum on alternative voting in future elections; the referendum was held last year and the idea rejected by a 2-1 margin. The second was for reform of the House of Lords and after yesterday's events in Westminster this has probably also run on to the rocks. Strictly speaking the government's decision yesterday to withdraw its parliamentary bill was about how much time should be devoted to debate of this issue rather than on its substance. A sufficient number of Conservative MPs were ready to vote against the government ‘s tight timetable to threaten its defeat. But to have allowed adequate time for detailed debate on the legislation could have paralysed government parliamentary business for months because the LibDem's proposed reforms are extremely controversial and widely disliked.

Unless the prime minister can offer his deputy an acceptable way out of this setback -- and it is difficult to see what that might be - Mr Clegg will have to consider very carefully whether his party should remain in the coalition and on what terms. His influence seems to be waning, his policy priorities are not being achieved and he is at odds with his partner on many important issues.

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