Politics.co.uk Blog

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Seating arrangements ruffle Lib Dems

About an hour before the state opening of parliament began, Tory grandee Sir Peter Tapsell was spotted tottering into the chamber of the Commons.

After a quick curious look up at the press gallery, which was packed with journalists having their official picture taken, the Father of the House wandered up to his customary seat and slid a small card into the place-holder covering his customary seat.

It was the first time I'd spotted this practice takes place - and teaches us that in the Commons, as on commuter trains, getting a seat is everything.

Unfortunately I'm hearing seating arrangements are the latest source of tensions within the fledgling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

In the last parliament the Lib Dems reserved exclusive use of the first two benches in their corner of the chamber.

They have sought to flip this arrangement in the new Commons - but the influx of new Tory MPs unfamiliar with this custom is causing trouble.

I'm hearing Lib Dem MPs are having to fight for their right to an independent parliamentary party.

Regular battles take place in the minutes before the Commons begins its session, as misguided new Tories put their place reservations in the Lib Dem benches.

"They're like Germans with beach towels!" one Lib Dem old-timer told me.

It feels like the latest good deal the Lib Dems have got. Their party's ministers are allowed to sit among the Tories elsewhere; but the Tories aren't allowed to intrude on the Liberal enclave.

As I write, the build-up to the next big event after the Queen's Speech - the emergency Budget - looms closer and closer. Sir Peter will be putting his card in its usual place around now. He might be witness to a bit of Lib Dem jiggery-pokery as he does so.

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