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.