It is not unheard of for politicians to play to the gallery at party conferences but the Lib Dems have provided more memorable examples than most. Simon Hughes attacked the Tories as “ruthless” and “extreme”, Vince Cable referred to the right as the “ideological descendents of those who sent children up chimneys” and Tim Farron attacked their “witless kneejerk populism”. Today it’s Chris Huhne’s turn.
Leaked copies of the Energy Secretary’s speech have been doing the rounds and reveal that Huhne will launch an attack on what he calls the Tories’ “Tea Party Tendency”. With reference to the US debt imbroglio (his colleague Vince Cable previously hit out at the country’s “right-wing nutters” ), he will say:
If you fail to compromise, if you fail to seek the common ground that unites us, if you insist that only you have the answers, if you keep beating the anti-European drum, if you slaver over tax cuts for the rich, then you will put in peril the most crucial task of this government.
You will wreck the nation’s economy and common purpose. We are all in this together and we can’t get out of it alone.
As you’ll have noticed, Huhne is smartly using the Tories’ own rhetoric (“we are all in this together”) against them. This, combined with an insistence that the UK’s relationship with the EU will remain unchanged (“We will not, as Liberal Democrats in government, weaken the ties that deliver our national interest through Europe.”) is certain to trouble the Conservative backbenches, many of whom loathe Huhne.
But the Energy Secretary believes that the Tories’ conduct during the AV referendum gives him the right to go on the offensive. As he will say in his speech, “I for one thought the vilification of Nick was appalling.”
It’s a further reminder of how much damage the fractious referendum campaign did to the unity of the coalition.