Some of this is probably choreographed. Both Ashdown and Clegg have made it clear that their outrage doesn't stretch to wanting out of the coalition. A schism before the next election would, they say, damage both the country and the economy — but they've got to be able to let off steam in the meantime, if only to keep their own MPs and party members on side.
But, meant or not, the harsh words suggest that this one of the tensest periods of this government. The Lib Dems are, basically, scared of annhilation. They have gained much from the coalition, both in terms of policy and of experience, but it is now coming at some cost to their self-identity. Europe, voting reform, tuition fees — these are all core Lib Dem concerns, but they are also the areas where they have, very publicly, lost out to the Tories. Whom, now, does a Europhile student looking for a ‘new politics’ vote for? That, in a way, is the question that Clegg faces today.
In coming to a solution, the Lib Dem leader has a choice to make. Does he try to repair relations with his party's traditional constituency, mainly by bashing and impeding the Tories when it comes to Europe and all that? Or does he try to reach out to a whole new set of voters? On the evidence of this morning, he is more inclined towards the former. There will, I expect, be more viciousness and more demands in the weeks to come. The question that David Cameron faces, in turn, is how much of that to put up with.