After Chris Huhne’s outburst at David Cameron and George Osborne became public last week, my colleague Jon Bernstein noted that Huhne had replaced Vince Cable as the bookmakers’ favourite to be next to leave the cabinet. Huhne, Jon wrote then, “will need to consider what influence he can hope to have from the back benches and may conclude that he is better off fighting from within. For now.”
Cable, the man Huhne replaced in the bookies’ affections, is surely now asking himself precisely the same question. As he told the BBC News Channel today: “Some of us never had many illusions about the Conservatives, but they have emerged [during the AV referendum campaign] as ruthless, calculating and thoroughly tribal.”
He went on to add that this “doesn’t mean to say we can’t work with them. I think they have always been that way, but you have to be businesslike and professional and you have to work with people who aren’t your natural bedfellows and that is being grown-up in politics. We are going to continue to do that.” But he would say that, wouldn’t he?
Such public grumbling on the part of two Lib Dem cabinet ministers is striking, of course, but, as Vernon Bogdanor argued in an article for the New Statesman in January, “peacetime coalitions collapse through disaffection at the grass roots, not conflict at the top. In Britain, the leaders can only lead for as long as the followers are willing to follow. When the followers cease to follow, the leaders cease to be able to lead.”
Perhaps the misgivings of Lib Dem activists are finally getting through to the leadership?