Peter Hoskin

The final sting

The final sting
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It's Christmas Eve, and the Daily Telegraph have wrapped up their sting operation in time for tomorrow. The final victims are the Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne and the children's minister Sarah Teather. As it happens, Teather gets off without blemishing her copybook: her greatest indiscretion is to claim that Michael Gove is "deeply relieved" to be in coalition, as it means more funding for schools. Browne, though, is a touch more forthright: he says that Tory immigration policy is "harsh" and "uncharitable," but that Lib Dem involvement will provoke a "more enlightened" outcome. He adds that the Tories' EU grouping contains parties that "are quite nutty and that's an embarrassment to them."  

Labour will no doubt make play with the Browne comments at some point after Christmas. They have always been keen to attack the Tories' European alliances, even if the dynamite has never quite set light. That a Foreign Office minister is making these points, it will be claimed, is proof that the Tories are a "regressive" force, time for a "new generation", etc. etc.    

But you can still file these revelations in the folder marked Embarrassing, rather than Damaging. It is not one jot surprising that Lib Dem ministers differ with their Tory colleagues over Europe and immigration. And, overall, Browne is regarded by Tories as a man they can sensibly do business with - not as someone who is working to undermine the LibCon partnership from within. If anything, these latest snippets might actually strengthen the coalition; shielding it from the volatile fury of the Lib Dem left, if not of the Tory right. Here we have two Lib Dem ministers unguardedly setting out what their party is achieving in government on Europe and on schools. Locked in the boot? Perhaps not.