Peter Hoskin


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There are Lib Dems everywhere today, CoffeeHousers, and they're differentiating like crazy. We had Nick Clegg himself on the Andrew Marr show earlier, waxing lukewarm about Boris Island, and there have been moments of assertiveness from his party colleagues as well. Here's a quick round-up:

1) Chris Huhne. The embattled energy minister hasn't taken to the airwaves today, but he is omnipresent nonetheless. A good portion of Clegg's Marr appearance was devoted to him, with the Deputy Prime Minister stressing that ‘he has been crystal clear that he denies any wrong doing’ — but not quashing the idea that Huhne would lose his job if those denials turn out to be false. Meanwhile, the Sunday Times has word of a ‘crucial’ new witness (£) in Huhne's speeding case. And ‘friends of Mr Huhne’ appear in the Independent on Sunday to accuse David Cameron's press secretary, Gabby Bertin, of briefing against him over those leaked Royal Yacht plans. It's all rather messy for — ahem — Calamity Chris at the moment.

2) Vince Cable. That mansion tax idea just won't go away. And, surprise, surprise, it's the Business Secretary who has brought it up again, in interview with the Sunday Telegraph. According to the paper, he's pushing for a levy to be imposed on properties worth over £2 million in this year's Budget. ‘A mansion tax is still very much on the agenda’, he tells them, ‘it is a very good idea.’

Thing is, this isn't just Vince being Vince. Clegg also spoke out in favour of the tax during his Marr interview, although he has also been downplaying the idea of it making the Budget. ‘This is part of the Lib Dem manifesto,’ he emphasised — which is true but also telling. As part of their redoubled ‘differentiation strategy’, the Lib Dems appear to be drawing more attention to which of their own policies they are fighting for within government, whether those policies make it to the statute books or not. 

3) Paddy Ashdown. Benefits were Ashdown's subject on the Murnaghan show earlier — he said he couldn't support the coalition's benefit cap ‘in its present form’. And he may not have to, either. Clegg suggested to Marr that there could be ‘transitional’ arrangements so that the cap fits better for some claimants. Whether this will be enough to quell the Lib Dem's bubbling concerns about welfare reform, I'm not sure. But it's enough to suggest that the party's leadership are reacting after last week's votes on the Welfare Reform Bill. 

Anyway, that's quite enough LibDemmery for now. Time to start concentrating on the football