Coalition unaccomplished? Photo: Getty
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Coalition rift: Danny Alexander accuses Tories of looking to "inflict unnecessary pain"

Conservative and Lib Dem ministers are exacerbating the coalition rift emerging from the Chancellor's Autumn Statement.

A fresh coalition rift emerged last week when George Osborne made his Autumn Statement. When he was outlining his economic plan of cuts to come, which made it clear the Tories' plan for austerity beyond fixing the deficit, the Lib Dems looked to distance themselves from such harsh financial decisions.

The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg didn't attend the statement, the Business Secretary Vince Cable openly derided the Tories' plans as unattainable and "brutal". However, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, loyally did the media rounds and was willing to discuss the Treasury's new policies.

But now even Alexander, described by some insiders to have "gone native" in the Treasury, has attacked his coalition partner's economic plans as looking to "inflict unneccessary pain" on the country. In an article for the Daily Telegraph, Alexander accuses the Conservatives of wanting austerity to last forever. He claims that the Conservatives wanting to further shrink the state is, "an ideological demand, not an economic necessity", and accuses the party of panicking ahead of the election:

Who would have thought that of the two parties that formed the Coalition, it would be the Tories who would be blown off course? A mix of unfunded tax promises, harsh spending plans, and pandering to Ukip may be born of pre-election panic, but it is not economically credible.

In turn, David Cameron has written in an email to Tory MPs that the Lib Dems are "all over the place" on cutting the deficit, and that the Autumn Statement plans are "distinctly" Conservative, rather than a truly joint coalition effort. 

This skirmish comes after Clegg told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show over the weekend that the Tories are "kidding themselves" about balancing the books:

I just think the Conservatives are kidding themselves and seeking to kid British voters if they are claiming that it is possible to balance the books, deliver unfunded tax cuts, shrink the state and support public services in the way that everybody wants.

As I wrote about Clegg and Cable's initial attitude to the Autumn Statement last week, this is foolish behaviour from the Lib Dems. Their "differentiation" technique of trying to distance themselves from Tory policies won't get them particularly far now, considering their consistently woeful polling just five months until the general election. What is more important is that they show themselves to be a vital coalition partner, in preparation for the highly likely prospect of future alliances. They hardly seem indispensable as a coalition partner if they decry the policies they were supposed to be a key part in formulating.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Recess confidential: Labour's liquid party

Sniffing out the best stories from Westminster, including Showsec, soames, and Smith-side splits.

If you are celebrating in a brewery, don’t ask Labour to provide the drinks. Because of the party’s continuing failure to secure a security contractor for its Liverpool conference, it is still uncertain whether the gathering will take place at all. Since boycotting G4S, the usual supplier, over its links with Israeli prisons, Labour has struggled to find an alternative. Of the five firms approached, only one – Showsec – offered its services. But the company’s non-union-recognition policy is inhibiting an agreement. The GMB, the firm’s antagonist, has threatened to picket the conference if Showsec is awarded the contract. In lieu of a breakthrough, sources suggest two alternatives: the police (at a cost of £59.65 per constable per hour), or the suspension of the G4S boycott. “We’ll soon find out which the Corbynites dislike the least,” an MP jested. Another feared that the Tories’ attack lines will write themselves: “How can Labour be trusted with national security if it can’t organise its own?”

Farewell, then, to Respect. The left-wing party founded in 2004 and joined by George Galloway after his expulsion from Labour has officially deregistered itself.

“We support Corbyn’s Labour Party,” the former MP explained, urging his 522,000 Facebook followers to sign up. “The Labour Party does not belong to one man,” replied Jess Phillips MP, who also pointed out in the same tweet that Respect had “massively failed”. Galloway, who won 1.4 per cent of the vote in this year’s London mayoral election, insists that he is not seeking to return to Labour. But he would surely be welcomed by Jeremy Corbyn’s director of communications, Seumas Milne, whom he once described as his “closest friend”. “We have spoken almost daily for 30 years,” Galloway boasted.

After Young Labour’s national committee voted to endorse Corbyn, its members were aggrieved to learn that they would not be permitted to promote his candidacy unless Owen Smith was given equal treatment. The leader’s supporters curse more “dirty tricks” from the Smith-sympathetic party machine.

Word reaches your mole of a Smith-side split between the ex-shadow cabinet ministers Lisa Nandy and Lucy Powell. The former is said to be encouraging the challenger’s left-wing platform, while the latter believes that he should make a more centrist pitch. If, as expected, Smith is beaten by Corbyn, it’s not only the divisions between the leader and his opponents that will be worth watching.

Nicholas Soames, the Tory grandee, has been slimming down – so much so, that he was congratulated by Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, on his weight loss. “Soon I’ll be able to give you my old suits!” Soames told the similarly rotund Watson. 

Kevin Maguire is away

I'm a mole, innit.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser