By Tim Montgomerie
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In fact he didn't. Additionally, David Cameron has NOT just given a speech in which he said the following:
"I have tried to make coalition government a success but it's proving much harder than I had hoped. One week you get agreement from the Liberal Democrat ministers to deliver a necessary reform but a month or so later Nick Clegg comes back to me and says his party won't agree to it after all. Unfortunately Nick leads a party with very different views on many vital issues. Liberal Democrats from the West Country lean Rightwards but from Scotland and the North they lean Left. He has to keep them happy but it's almost impossible. Since he decided to change his party's policy on tuition fees he has lost the benefit of the doubt of many of his party's MPs and activists. Unhappiness inside his party meant he had to change his mind about equal sized parliamentary seats. He had told me that there was no link between Lords and boundary reform but pressure inside his party forced him into his new position. I'm coming to the conclusion that neither coalition government nor Ed Miliband are strong enough to make the tough decisions that this country needs its government to take. Hopefully we won't have another hung parliament after the next election."
Nick Clegg HAS given a speech in which he said this:
"The Tory right dreams of a fantasy world where we can walk away from the EU, but magically keep our economy strong… where we can pretend the world hasn’t moved on, and stand opposed to equal marriage… where we can refuse to accept the verdict of the British people and pretend the Conservatives won a majority of their own… The Conservatives suggested we cut an extra £10bn from welfare. And ideas were put forward to penalise families with more than two children by taking away child benefit… And to penalise young people who want to move away from home in search of a job by denying them housing benefit. But when the political hothouse of the conference season was over and our two parties sat down to agree a plan, the coalition stuck to the centre ground. We agreed £3.8bn of benefit cuts – uprating all benefits in line with the pay rises we can afford from next April in the public sector of 1%. And we rejected the more extreme reforms that had been put on the table. This is the job of the Liberal Democrats: to anchor reform in the sensible centre ground."
The point about the two passages above is that they aim for both parties' achilles heels. Cameron needed to show that he was a one nation Tory in office – as modern and compassionate in government as he promised to be in opposition. Nick Clegg's claims that he wants to pursue "extreme reforms" that would penalise the vulnerable is an attempt to retoxify the Tories. It aims to undo the main advantage that Tory strategists hoped they would gain from breturning to power. Key Cameroons felt that decontamination could only go so far in opposition. Rather than detoxifying in government the Lib Dems and Clegg are fighting hard to retoxify the Tories as the nasty party.
If Clegg continues to pursue his aggressive policy of differentiation – and there's an important article in today's Guardian from his former key aide, Richard Reeve, suggesting that it should accelerate in 2013 – he shouldn't be surprised if the Tories hit back. The counter strike won't, of course, be as stark as the one I drafted for Mr Cameron. I should imagine it would come from the Tory Chairman or some other surrogate figure. The PM will rightly want to remain above the fray. But if the attack comes it will target the principal weaknesses of the Lib Dems' role in government – the broken promises and a struggle with tough decisions.
By willing to attack his Coalition partners' weak spot with such ferocity and when the parliament still has two-and-a-half years to run, Clegg is taking a big risk with the stability of his arrangement with Cameron. The Conservative leader may be willing to give Clegg some slack given the precariousness of the Lib Dem leader's position within his party but for how much longer? Before any further acts of differentiation Mr Clegg should ponder Sir Isaac's Newton's third law of physics and wonder if it applies to politics too. In my view it does and must.