Earlier in the week, Pete Hoskin documented the rise in fighting for ownership of various policies – particularly road-building. Like strange lights in the sky, clouds of smoke from Vesuvius and King Duncan’s horses eating each other, it’s a sign of the impending end of the Coalition world (or at least of this precise coalition).
There was another pair of signs yesterday – and they were less gracious than dashing around the country telling everyone one road or another was your idea not the other guy’s.
First, Nick Clegg simply didn’t turn up for the Autumn Statement, electing instead to go to Cornwall for the day. It was a peculiar decision – no-one expects him to exude Rose Garden warmth nowadays, but he does still have ‘Deputy Prime Minister’ on his business card. Part of the job is supposed to be attending the major events of the parliamentary calendar – and the Autumn Statement went out in the name of a Government which still includes his party.
In case anyone was in any doubt, he then let it be known that he had deliberately stayed away because he doesn’t want to be seen sitting next to the Prime Minister or the Chancellor anymore. Presumably he’s worried that some of their electoral ratings might rub off on him and he may have to carry on doing the job after May.
Apparently fearful that his crown as Lib Dem Stropper-in-Chief might be stolen by his leader, Vince Cable swung into action, ejecting all remaining toys from his creaky pram. The Business Secretary wrote to the OBR, weirdly demanding that they lay out the difference between the economic effects of Conservative and Liberal Democrat policy. Thus forced to lay out the bleeding obvious, Robert Chote replied that the OBR’s job was to forecast the impact of Government policy – which was what it would continue to do.
The only senior Lib Dem figure getting on with the job as he should appears to be Danny Alexander.
The commentariat has wondered since approximately day two of the Coalition how it would one day be dissolved, and from day three about how the respective parties would go about differentiating themselves come election time. From this week’s evidence it seems the Lib Dems have given it rather less thought.
Does Nick Clegg really think that by not sitting next to his Coalition partners people will forget that he has been in government with them for four and a half years? Does Vince Cable think that by attacking the OBR’s forecasting he can somehow claw back his (ill-founded) former reputation as an economic sage?
If this is the differentiation strategy – to hide from the responsibilities of government while sending out press releases trying to claim the credit for its successes – then the next few months could be even rockier for the junior Coalition partners than expected.