By Andrew Gimson
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At the heart of government, Conservatives
and Liberal Democrats get on surprisingly well. Nothing the Lib Dems have said
or done in Glasgow has forced a revision of this view.
It is true that Vince Cable set out to be rude
about the Conservatives: “We’ve got dog-whistle politics orchestrated by an
But what else does one expect from Mr
Cable? It would be much more worrying if he managed to suppress his anti-Antipodean
prejudices, stopped playing to the Lib Dem activist gallery and instead expressed
his complete approval of everything done by David Cameron and George Osborne.
When asked if he would ever quit the
coalition, the canny Mr Cable replied: “I think President Obama has just proven very eloquently in recent weeks the danger of
parading your red lines in public.”
So it seems Mr Cable is determined not to
back himself into a position where he feels obliged to take action instead of
Meanwhile the business of government
continues to be transacted in Downing Street in a spirit, for the most part, of
civility and partnership, between people like Danny Alexander and David Laws on
one side, and Francis Maude and Oliver Letwin on the other. Each side
understands the other’s position, is prepared to make reasonable compromises
and is excited by the many things that can be achieved within those
This harmonious co-operation is an affront
to our tradition of politics, which is adversarial: it relies on people in
different parties, and indeed within the same party, not getting on with each
And it is certainly an affront to British
political journalism. Rob Hutton, in Romps, Tots and
Boffins, his new book about journalese, is excellent on the “bitter”, “explosive”,
“furious”, “stand-up” or “knock-down” “rows” which “erupt” in British news
reports, and can confidently be expected to “escalate”, “deepen” or “simmer”
until “defused”. Somewhere along the way, there is with any luck a “bloodbath”.
We don’t get much of that kind of thing out
of Downing Street, which may in part be a tribute to the discretion of those
involved, but for the most part means they are grown up enough to be getting on
with the business of government instead of attempting to kill each other.
If the Lib Dem conference shows anything,
it is that the Prime Minister has little to fear from the Lib Dems.