Byline: David Williamson
VETERAN Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes gave a steely warning to the Conservatives yesterday that they had better deliver House of Lords reform because a "deal is a deal."
Steve Dube in Carmarthen His problem is Tories can point to the coalition's sacred text, their programme for government, and say there is no commitment.
There was a cast-iron deal to hold a referendum on the Alternative Vote system and reduce the number of constituencies, but regarding Lords reform there was a mere pledge to "establish a committee" that would "bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation" and produce a draft motion.
Tories can argue there was no pledge to whip it through the House of Commons at a double-quick pace or use the Parliament Act to impose it on the Lords; they would not have been shocked if it had not appeared in the Queen's speech.
Many Conservatives also bristle when they hear it claimed they had a manifesto pledge to create a democratic Lords. Their manifesto stated they would "work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current house of Lords".
When 100 MPs are ready to defy their leader and potentially wreck the coalition it is clear consensus has not been reached.
David Cameron heads into the summer in a difficult position. He risks, as his former boss Norman Lamont put it in his resignation speech as chancellor, giving "the impression of being in office but not in power".
He is in trouble if the Lib Dems see him as a man who cannot deliver a deal and Tories see him as someone who does not need to be obeyed. What will happen with gay marriage and redrawing constituency boundaries? Mr Cameron also knows that he may well need another coalition with the Lib Dems in 2015 and this will not happen if a seething sense of betrayal endures.
If he does decide to give Lords reform another go he knows he will win over swathes of his own party if he agrees to the Labour demand for a referendum. Alternatively, he could seek to mollify the Lib Dems by getting rid of the last hereditary peers, having fewer bishops, moving to a much more independent appointments system, limiting numbers and introducing a retirement age.
He could also buy time and gain Welsh kudos by borrowing an idea from First Minister Carwyn Jones, arguing that Scotland's push for greater autonomy/independence shows why a full-blown constitutional convention which could culminate in the creation of a federal senate.
Federal - that's a word Lib Dems like a lot.