The Tories and the Lib Dems are now divorced – whatever they’re saying in public

December 5, 2012 3:47 pm

Today’s Autumn Statement will come to be seen as a disastrous piece of work, once the dust has settled. Not as big a disaster as the 2012 budget (this was only a “mini-budget” after all), but probably one that will be remembered. And not fondly.

The slieght of hand over the 4G spectrum may well trip up Osborne this week as his statement unavels. The scale of his raid on the poor to attempt to balance the budget could be an Achilles heel too, when considered alongside his tax cut for millionaires. But it’s the perpetual Gordonian game playing and switcheroos that Osborne is becoming fond of are merely serving to kick the can down the road. He’s desperately gaming the system in the hope that something, anything, turns up by way of growth to help him out of trouble. Yet each little wheeze makes the chances of a bigger crunch more likely.

But that’s not the most important political fallout from today’s Autumn Statement. The key role in today’s saga is reserved for the Lib Dems.

Now that might seem like an odd statement to make. After all the Lib Dems have never seemed more irrelevant in government than they are now. And yet by taking the decision today to deliver their own separate briefing on the budget, featuring the attack “The only tax cuts the Conservatives support are ones for the very rich”, they risk bringing the coalition to a halt as a functioning entity when combined with their less than full throated support for Osborne’s plans. Danny Alexander made no attempt to disguise the impact that today’s Statement had on the poor when he appeared on TV soon afterwards, and Nick Clegg went from animated during PMQs to glum once Osborne stood up. It was a far cry from “we’re all in this together” and “in the national interest”.

Following on from their decision to take a separate line from the Tories on Lords Reform/boundary changes, Clegg’s decision to make his own Leveson statement and their increasing anger with the Tories on Europe, the differentiation strategy has rapidly become a tale of decoupling, allbeit hamstrung by the fact that the Lib Dems are much passengers in the Tory government car as Mitt Romney’s dog was a passenger in his now infamous long distance rooftop trip across America. They’re not the co-pilots, they’re locked in the cockpit. The Lib Dems are no longer part of the government, except as a grim technicality. They are like a couple who have split, but who still share the same address for admin purposes.

Occasionally the couple are forced to appear in public but everyone knows it’s a sham.

The sad thing is that much of the Lib Dem parliamentary party still seems to pine for a non-existent past when they were a valued and valuable part of government. I’m afraid that time never existed, but a slightly less glorious but still worthwhile period – when they were very junior partners to the Tories – has all but ended.

The couple can’t bare to look at each other, or be in the same room together, nevermind make convincing joint statements.

They may still stay together until 2015, for the sake of the kids in the national interest. But the love is gone, and the inevitable post-hoc diaries of the various protagonists that covers this period will make very interesting reading indeed. I dare say it should make Blair/Brown look like a picnic.

And that – the end of this government as a functioning entity – is the real take home story from today’s Autumn Statement, and is likely to be what we remember of today when the dust has settled, whenever that might be.

  • Serbitar

    Clegg has the cowed and haunted look of an abused spouse. Shouldn’t someone report this matter to the police before it is too late?

  • Dave Postles

    We should simply refer to the LibDems in future as ‘the fellow travellers’.

  • Amber_Star

    A well observed analysis. Whilst others are crunching the numbers, this gives a good insight into the state of the Coalition! Clegg was apparently seen mouthing dissent whilst Osborne trashed the idea of a mansion tax or anything similar.
    Where was the much vaunted measures against the rich which must balance those which were aimed at the bottom? They weren’t there. The LDs have been double-crossed again. This was yet another regressive [mini-]budget from a blue meanie chancellor!

  • Amber_Star

    A well observed analysis. Whilst others are crunching the numbers, this gives a good insight into the state of the Coalition! Clegg was apparently seen mouthing dissent whilst Osborne trashed the idea of a mansion tax or anything similar.
    Where was the much vaunted measures against the rich which must balance those which were aimed at the bottom? They weren’t there. The LDs have been double-crossed again. This was yet another regressive [mini-]budget from a blue meanie chancellor!

  • Amber_Star

    A well observed analysis. Whilst others are crunching the numbers, this gives a good insight into the state of the Coalition! Clegg was apparently seen mouthing dissent whilst Osborne trashed the idea of a mansion tax or anything similar.
    Where was the much vaunted measures against the rich which must balance those which were aimed at the bottom? They weren’t there. The LDs have been double-crossed again. This was yet another regressive [mini-]budget from a blue meanie chancellor!

  • Pingback: JBP Briefing – Autumn Statement 2012 | JBP

  • AlanGiles

    Even if the marriage is on the rocks, it seems Danny Alexander has gone along to “Relate” for counselling – he certainly seemed to enjoy being “George’s” yes man with Andrew Neil this afternoon, and seems to make to want a go of it. I must admit I didn’t dwell too long on it – a sickening spectacle anyway – but Mark Selby was thrashing Ryan Day* on the red button!

    (*Snooker)

    • Mr Arthur Cook

      Danny is a “Scottish Lib Dem” i.e. a Tory.
      You don’t plan a political career by being a Tory in Scotland and Danny wanted to be a “big fish” in a small puddle.
      Now he’s out of his depth and looks like a rabbit in the headlights.

  • AlanGiles

    Even if the marriage is on the rocks, it seems Danny Alexander has gone along to “Relate” for counselling – he certainly seemed to enjoy being “George’s” yes man with Andrew Neil this afternoon, and seems to make to want a go of it. I must admit I didn’t dwell too long on it – a sickening spectacle anyway – but Mark Selby was thrashing Ryan Day* on the red button!

    (*Snooker)

  • robertcp

    I was wondering how he could claim that the deficit would fall this year. This explains it!

    I am not sure how but this comment ended up under the wrong article. I am commenting on the 4G auction and interest from quantitative easing (see link in the article).

    On this article, there is clearly no love lost in the coalition but the Lib Dems can claim that they have moderated the Conservatives. Hopefully another coalition is an option in 2015 if we have a hung Parliament!

  • robertcp

    I was wondering how he could claim that the deficit would fall this year. This explains it!

    I am not sure how but this comment ended up under the wrong article. I am commenting on the 4G auction and interest from quantitative easing (see link in the article).

    On this article, there is clearly no love lost in the coalition but the Lib Dems can claim that they have moderated the Conservatives. Hopefully another coalition is an option in 2015 if we have a hung Parliament!

  • robertcp

    I was wondering how he could claim that the deficit would fall this year. This explains it!

    I am not sure how but this comment ended up under the wrong article. I am commenting on the 4G auction and interest from quantitative easing (see link in the article).

    On this article, there is clearly no love lost in the coalition but the Lib Dems can claim that they have moderated the Conservatives. Hopefully another coalition is an option in 2015 if we have a hung Parliament!

  • Mr Arthur Cook

    Splendid!!! Now Labour can woo the estranged and even stranger Nick Clegg because the promise of ending the coalition by Labour linking with a party which is now a byword for treachery, duplicity and with a “leader” who’s a figure of national ridicule ……….will really make people vote Labour?
    mmmmmm lets think about how Labour should deal with Mr Clegg. Votes would be won by handing him a ticket for the next train to Brussels.

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