As promised, the Telegraph has published recordings of conversations with more Lib Dem MPs, taped by undercover reporters at the constituency surgeries of Michael Moore, Steve Webb and Ed Davey. But although they include a few titbits of information – the cuts to housing benefits came as a surprise to Lib Dem MPs, for example – there’s nothing in them as exciting as Vince Cable’s claim that he could topple the government by standing down.
The comments merely confirm what many people suspected about coalition politics: it’s a furtive, acrimonious business, and many Lib Dems are worried about what it is doing to the country and to their party.
Michael Moore, Scottish Secretary and MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk
- Cutting child benefit for higher-rate taxpayers is “blatantly not a consistent and fair thing to do”.
- The increase in tuition fees to a maximum £9,000 is “the biggest, ugliest, most horrific thing in all of this . . . a car crash, a train wreck”.
- He feels bad about it: “I signed a pledge that promised not to do this. I’ve just done the worst crime a politician can commit, the reason most folk distrust us as a breed. I’ve had to break a pledge and very, very publicly.”
- The tuition fees increase will be “deeply damaging” for the Lib Dems.
- Conservative right-wingers “hate us with a passion – and I can’t say it’s unreciprocated”.
- Lib Dem sacrifices are justified by an obscure sense of duty to the coalition: “What we’ve all had to weigh up is the greater sense of what the coalition is about.”
Steve Webb, MP for Thornbury and Yate and pensions minister
- He is concerned about looking “too cosy” with the Conservatives by hiding the disasgreements underlying the coalition: “But if people see us sniping at each other and bickering publicly . . . I know we perhaps risk looking a bit too lovey-dovey, don’t we? That’s the problem; it looks a bit too cosy.”
- The Lib Dems have acted behind the scenes to stop Tory proposals: “There’s a lot of stuff that goes on behind, you know, a lot of things that will never see the light of day because we stop them.”
- He is worried about the child benefit cut, which will penalise couples in which one partner earns just above the higher-rate threshold: “I have written to the Treasury about this and, to be honest, the answer I got back wasn’t good enough . . . I don’t have a problem with the general principle but I don’t think the way we’re doing it is terribly clever.”
Ed Davey, MP for Kingston and Surbiton
- Plans to limit housing benefit would hit some of the poorest in society: “Their housing benefit cuts are going to mean, in my view, if they go through, that some people who are on the breadline will be put below the breadline. And that’s just deeply unacceptable.”
- He had not heard of the proposal before its announcement at the Conservative party conference.
- Middle-class families will be “very badly hit” by the cuts to housing benefit.
Nothing to see here
Unless anybody had thought that all the Liberal Democrats sold their consciences when they went into coalition with the Conservatives, the news that Michael Moore feels guilty about tuition fees is not surprising. Likewise the non-revelations that some Conservatives don’t like the Lib Dems very much, that the Lib Dems are worried about losing their identity as a distinct grouping from the coalition, and that the Conservatives scheme behind their coalition partners’ backs.
The lack of more shocking admissions – unless more are being kept in reserve – might frustrate the Telegraph. The paper’s decision not to publish Cable’s incendiary remarks about Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB takeover backfired. These latest revelations will not distract attention from the awkward situation the paper has got itself into.