By Matthew Barrett and Tim Montgomerie
On Wednesday, we reported that Tory MPs at the 1922 Committee wanted to "get those yellow b**tards", in reference to Liberal Democrats who were criticising Andrew Lansley's NHS reforms, having voted for it before.
In today's Mail on Sunday James Forsyth writes that 10 Downing Street is at the end of its tether in having to deal with the Liberal Democrats. They agree one thing one day and then revisit that agreement the next day. "It is like negotiating with an Italian," reports James, "You think everything has been agreed and shaken on, only for the other side to start demanding concessions before the deal goes ahead."
So, who are the real troublemakers on the Liberal Democrat side of the Coalition? Here's a rough guide…
Vince Cable: Cable's time in office, as the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, has not been a happy one – for him or his Cabinet colleagues. He threatened to abstain on his own tuition fees policy, admitted he thought about resigning over his BSkyB gaffe, and also implied he might prefer life outside government. He called David Cameron's modest speech on immigration "very unwise" and, as Paul Goodman pointed out last week, business doesn't think much of him. As Charles Moore pointed out last week in a devastating column the tuition fees policy has become a terrible dog's breakfast: students oppose the debt, the Treasury isn't going to save much money and universities won't get the scale of resources they need to deliver world class courses. Well done Vince.
Chris Huhne: After numerous instances of criticising Conservatives over the AV referendum, Huhne is certainly one of the Premier League's Big Four. He has threatened to sue his Coalition partners and likened the first Muslim member of Britain's Cabinet to Goebbels. His climate change plan, although diluted by the Chancellor, threatens to wreck Britain's economic recovery, as Nigel Lawson warned yesterday. If he survives his formidable intellectual skills will mean his environmental policies could become a massive political problem for Cameron but his immediate future rests in the hands of the Essex police.
Simon Hughes: Hughes, the deputy leader of the Lib Dems, frustrated the Coalition on tuition fees – by not committing to voting for, or against the policy, then criticising the plans, then abstaining on the vote, then agreeing to be a "social mobility tsar", and then criticising the policy some more. Outside of tuition fees, Hughes led rebellions against the rise in VAT and housing benefit cuts, and said Baroness Warsi was "inventing facts" during the AV referendum. Most recently, Hughes has opposed the NHS bill (that he voted for), and said it needed "fundamental" change for him to vote for it again.
Lord Oakeshott: He's not the highest profile Yellow B**tard but certainly, behind-the-scenes, one of the most dangerous. Personally close to Cable and tactically close to Huhne, Oakeshott attacked George Osborne as "incompetent" when he resigned as a Lib Dem Treasury spokesman earlier this year. "He hates Tories," said one ConHome source and is stirring up opposition in the upper house to the Coalition's NHS and police commissioner plans.
Baroness Shirley Williams: From her position in the Lords, Shirley Williams has opposed the NHS reforms vocally, complaining about them for months, encouraging rebellions against them in the Commons, and doing her best to dramatise the situation. It's the likelihood of defeat in the Lords that, more than any other factor, has turned Osborne into an opponent of the current NHS reform package.
Evan Harris: Harris was always on the left of the party when he was an MP, so his opposition to some Coalition plans is not surprising. However, Harris' prolific media appearances since he lost his seat, and constant policy opposition to government plans, especially on NHS reforms, makes him a top rebel.
Tim Farron: Farron is a mixture of good and bad – when he makes media appearances, he often supports the Coalition from a leftish Lib Dem point of view, and so deserves respect for that. On the other hand, he has rebelled on forestry reform plans, tuition fees, and he called Mrs Thatcher's policies "organised wickedness". ConHome can't help wanting to forgive Farron, however. His deep likeability helped him oust Tim Collins from parliament and makes him… sometime… a top tip to succeed Clegg.
Worth a mention: Paddy Ashdown.
Andrew George: A rebellious backbencher – although not well-known, he works hard in trying to frustrate Coalition health policy specifically. George led Lib Dem opposition in the Commons to the NHS bill, the Localism Bill, the redistribution of seats legislation, and tuition fees.
Worth a mention: Bob Russell and Mike Hancock.
Nick Clegg: You would think Clegg would be one of the more loyal yellows but he is now leading the charge against the NHS reforms. Worse, from 10 Downing Street's point of view, he made a direct attack, earlier this week, on Cameron's personal NHS credentials: "People get confused when, one day, they hear politicians declare that they love the NHS, and the next they hear people describing themselves as government advisers saying that reform is a huge opportunity for healthcare corporations to make big profits." We are worried that we've got the wrong classification for him but are hoping that he'll return to First Year Clegg when he backed IDS on welfare reform.
Ed Davey: Davey, the Minister in charge of the Post Office, is very pro-enterprise, supportive of cuts and Steve Hilton's favourite Lib Dem as a result. He recently clashed with Boris Johnson, over the government's stance on tube strikes (see the FT (£), however.
Steve Webb: Despite being on the Left of his party the Pensions Minister has formed a good working relationship with Iain Duncan Smith. The Work & Pensions Secretary has repeatedly said he couldn't have hoped for a better minister. The secret of Webb's success has been to forget about politics for a season and focus on being an effective minister. His pensions plan may mean he'll become an historic, reforming minister. His sensible comments following the AV referendum result are characteristic of his open-minded approach to Coalition.
Jeremy Browne: Browne, along with David Laws, was wooed by the Conservative leadership prior to last year's election. A free-market, classical liberal, Browne is on board with the deficit reduction programme (indeed, he is apparently very keen on it). He is an opponent of the strategy of putting yellow water between the Lib Dems and the Tories. The MP for Taunton thinks the Lib Dems should continue the first year strategy of 'owning' the government's whole programme.
David Laws. Although in current difficulties Laws remains a big player and warned last week, in an interview with The Times, against more noises off from his colleagues.
Danny Alexander: Hearts sank when David Laws had to resign as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. He was "irreplaceable" in the eyes of many Tories. Exceeding all expectations Danny Alexander has been an effective Number 2 to George Osborne. He looks slightly puppyish in front of TV cameras but he hasn't joined in any of the Coalition-bashing.