Even if the single Bill passes, reformers are increasingly fearful that a long-running row will make it much more difficult to campaign successfully for a Yes vote in a referendum.
The Guardian editorial, which is critical of Labour's stance and supportive of the LibDems.
The bill as it stands is a trade-off within the coalition. Each of the partners has to stomach something it dislikes, in order to get the reform it wants. If one part falls, everything collapses. In Labour's eyes, the boundary changes are so odious that they outweigh any possible benefit from AV. It would have been better, and perhaps is still not too late, to separate the bill into two pieces of legislation.
David Blackburn on The Spectator Coffee House, while sympathising with some of the Tory rebel points.
Cameron has an easy option: split the opposition by re-writing the bill. Detach the boundaries changes clauses from the AV bill, and then re-introduce them in a separate bill.
Will Straw at Left Foot Forward who strongly backs electoral reform while offering a detailed critique of the boundary reforms:
This is a good idea as it would mean that Labour MPs could heartily support the AV bill while continuing a principled opposition to the proposed boundary changes. Reformers should encourage the Coalition to do just that.
I see no coherent reason not to do this - and it seems essential that those in the Coalition who want the referendum to pass rethink and get behind this.
The main counter-argument is that the Coalition partners have bound these different measures together in a form of survival pact, because they feared in May that they would not pass alone, since neither partner really wants one half of the Bill.
As The Guardian notes, that is low politics. But there is very little point in low politics if you get the Macchiavellan calculations wrong.
Yet the fear the Bills could not pass separately is simply wrong. After all, the low politics of a Coalition survival pact remain the same whether there is one Bill or two Once the Tories and LibDems have agreed the compromise, two Bills would be the same deal in terms of the Coalition manouvering and survival pact anyway, but without the risk that they've been too clever by half in messing the manouvering up. (The argument "We can't because we said we'd do it like this" is tautologous. If its the brilliant plan you thought it was, carry on and you'll be fine. If they do so, presumably its because the Coalition still has the votes for their backroom deal, knows the Tory backbenches are bluffing and can be faced down. In which case, ministers might as well quit the whingeing entitlement culture which bizarrely assumes that the Opposition must support any political deal the Coalition partners make).
Firstly, there would be no risk whatsoever to the AV referendum. The Labour party has to back it - as its own amendment makes clear. The Tory frontbench has to back it. Splitting the Bill gets a majority of 200 for something the Coalition feels it might risk losing now. So there is a big advantage there.
Secondly, it is very difficult to see any serious risk (regrettably) to the constituencies and boundaries process. The Coalition has a majority of 80. All that is needed is a clear pledge from the LibDems that their whips can control their MPs as part of a two Bill deal. But it would be a matter of confidence for the Coalition, and it would be an act of enormous bad faith - and very dangerous to their own interests - for Nick Clegg's party to collapse it right now. So they would troop through the lobbies for the boundary bill.
Two Bills would be carried.(The Coalition will probably have to persuade the House of Lords they are taking voter registration seriously. Surely these reforming democrats can do that? And they will have to do that for one Bill anyway).
The only difference is presentational for the LibDems: they would now have to vote for the boundary measures on their merits - but that has to be their public argument now anyway - and they could still privately tell their activists they were supping with a long spoon to get their referendum.
Would the Coalition lose face? But they have shown a willingness to back down - new politics? - having been pretty ill-informed about rape anonymity, for example. Perhaps more pertinently, the 55% rule was a behind closed doors stitch-up on which the existence of the Coalition was said to depend. The charge of a partisan motivation was said to be a slur - though negotiators freely admitted it in public. LibDems accused constructive critics of making partisan points which were not constructive - yet the Coalition u-turn then did exactly what sites like Left Foot Forward had constructively proposed.
Simon Hughes cited Parliamentary time on Newsnight. That should be turned on its head.
For there is a further major benefit to the two Bill solution - one of democratic scrutiny. It is very strange that this New Politics government would introduce major constitutional changes and cut out pre-legislative and committee scrutiny wherever possible. The Bills could both kick-off together and remain linked. But the proposed lack of scrutiny of the boundaries proposals can be avoided, while still completing its passage before the May referendum itself.
The other reason to avoid splitting the Bill is a Macchiavellian stitch-up by their Coalition partners. Excited commentariat talk about electoral pacts and mergers is good for a Tory centrist image. But it is entirely bad for the LibDems: the political Cabinet acknowledged they need help to promote a distinctive identity, yet Downing Street keeps on briefing the love-in which threatens it.
But all of the talk is clearly empty while they still intend to oppose AV.
Are the Conservatives playing the LibDems? They would be doing exactly this if they wanted to strangle at birth the prospects of a Yes vote in a referendum, with the bonus of helping the LibDems blame a Labour party ready to support AV (in two Bills, and in the country too) rather than a Tory party which will oppose it.
David Cameron will grant Nick Clegg a referendum - but refusing to split the Bill is simply to deny him any fair shot at winning it, for this may prove a decisive moment in influencing the referendum campaign and outcome many months from now, as Steve Richards (another commentator who wants Labour to remain committed to AV) notes in The Independent:
One of the country's most respected pollsters tells me he predicts the referendum will be lost by quite a wide margin. He suggests that the only way a big "No" victory could be prevented is if the next Labour leader threw his full force behind the campaign for AV.
That is a tough point for Simon Hughes. He might be vociferous in supporting the Coalition strategy and attacking Labour - but how is that going to do anything to deliver a referendum Yes, which many Labour people still want? Raising the temperature of the Lib-Lab argument may play well to both party galleries but they are very bad for the Yes campaign we need.
But they will certainly be chuckling in the Boot and Flogger.
New politics? Listening government? Split the Bill!