The House of Lords is now debating amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill in the shadow of a government defeat on key proposals for welfare reform.
While we are right to focus a lot of attention on the strength and validity of arguments being put on the floor of the house, as we all wait for the votes - which will come in a flood at report stage - anyone wanting a particular outcome should also be thinking about the arithmetic and the party politics around the passage of this bill.
Party whips will be frantically headcounting, and we (to declare an interest, I am against the legal aid cuts as proposed) need to do the same.
Right now, I’d start by counting Lib Dem heads in the Lords. Welfare reform is a more emotive topic than legal aid to them, and on welfare reform six Lib Dem peers rebelled in various votes lost by the government.
That’s not many in the Lords, whose members are harder to whip than the Commons. But for every one of them who rebelled, there will be others kicking themselves for not rebelling: the instinct to rebel is increased when you think it is worthwhile.
Pitched right, legal aid votes are a chance for them to ‘atone’ for pro-government votes cast, reluctantly, on welfare reform.
So the defeat on welfare reform should be good news for legal aid supporters. Already more than six Lib Dem peers have their names on amendments. Those who did not rebel on welfare reform will feel just a little jealous of the halos currently hovering above the heads of their six colleagues.
They’ll see a gang of six, and should be reassured - not because they are socially sad lawmakers, but because politics is a horribly exposed job and the need to be part of a group, even a little one, is a necessary defence.
That really is the foundation of a rebellion. But for all that the Lords are independent, individual peers may also be held back by their connection to party colleagues in the Commons. Some rebellions, the peers will know, are helpful. Others present a divided party to the electorate, and voters have shown that they don’t back divided parties.
So most will have an eye on what defeat does for Lib Dem MPs. Rebellious peers will be doing them a favour if legal aid cuts are made an issue on the doorstep.
That might happen, but there is not much time for it to happen. If anyone reading this wants to make legal aid matter electorally, it is worth suddenly taking note of any council by-election in their area, and raising legal aid issues with the candidates. As the context for London mayor hots up, any opportunity to raise this with a candidate or their team should be taken.
The ideal is that pro-legal aid points should reach Lib Dem peers not just through the channel of distinguished legal minds, of whom the Lib Dems have a few in the Lords.
If points made on legal aid are reaching and convincing someone like non-lawyer Lord Rennard, the party’s former campaign chief, then the wisdom of backing legal aid cuts might be doubted at the highest levels.
Achieve that and government defeats in the Lords are not only more likely - they are more likely to be replicated by the right outcome in the Commons.
But there is precious little time to do any of this.
Eduardo Reyes is Gazette features editor