In the latest outburst by a Liberal Democrat Minister, the Energy Secretary Chris Huhne has described his Conservative colleagues pushing for less regulation as “right wing ideologues” and “deregulation zealots”.
Speaking to the Social Liberal Forum, Huhne attacked the inclusion of environmental regulations on a list of red tape to be considered for scrapping. He said:
Between the obsession with micromanagement and target-setting displayed by the Labour party, and the fixation with deregulation and scrapping rules just because they are rules on offer from some right wing ideologues, we Liberal Democrats have a real chance to define an evidence-based, intelligent and distinctive approach.
Ministers are currently considering changes to the amount of regulation and are encouraging suggestions from the public to a government website called the “red tape challenge”. If enough people call for an item to be discarded, ministers must explain why it should be protected. The list includes 278 environmental regulations.
In a clear attempt to put some distance between his own party and the Tories, he added:
The belief that regulation always implies costs is equally fatuous – something that’s obvious to Liberal Democrats, who have never taken the view that the market is always right.
Reportedly, Vince Cable supports Huhne’s position, and other Lib Dems are gearing up to fight to retain a range of regulations. This is part of a Lib Dem strategy to fight their corner more aggressively, following losses in the local elections and AV referendum in May. This has been invigorated after significant concessions on NHS reform.
It’s not the first time Huhne has lashed out. During the AV referendum campaign, he threatened legal action over alleged lies from the “no” campaign. It is worth noting that Huhne — who lost out on party leadership to Nick Clegg — is ambitious, and publically criticising the Tories will strengthen his position with his party.
Of course, regulation will not be the issue that splits the coalition, but it is interesting to note the ramping up of rhetoric on all fronts. The question now is: how long will it take the Tory backbench, already frustrated, to start acting up too?