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Lib Dems in Glasgow cannot hide harmony in Downing Street

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 Australian Rottweiler.”

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 striking attitudes.

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 constraints.

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 other.

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.    


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