James Forsyth

Tories cock-a-hoop about Lib Dem disarray

Tories cock-a-hoop about Lib Dem disarray
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Every Tory I have spoken to this week has said the same thing, ‘aren’t the Lib Dems having a terrible time.’ The Tories are particularly happy because they see the Lib Dems’ credibility on economics taking a battering thanks to the total confusion over Cable’s proposed new tax on million-pound homes. They also think that the new Lib Dem policy will hurt the Lib Dems in a lot of the Southern seats the Tories are trying to win—Richmond, Winchester, Meon Valley and Taunton—as well as in three way marginals like Hampstead and Kilburn.  

The other thing that is putting a smile on Tory faces is the Lib Dems downgrading their pledge on tuition fees. David Cameron says that the question about why tuition fees are fair is the one that he finds hardest to answer at Cameron Direct meeting (personally I think the case for tuition fees is fairly straight forward, students will benefit from their university education so it is fairer for them to contribute to the cost of it rather than for it to be funded out of general taxation). So, the Tories are happy to see the Lib Dems spiking their own guns on this. They are also hopeful that it will help them in Lib Dem held seats with large students populations like Bath.

As David said earlier, their conference is one of the few times the Lib Dems can be guaranteed attention outside of an election campaign. But they have made poor use of their last conference before the country goes to the polls. The weekend was dominated by Clegg’s ill-advised use of the word savage about public spending cuts, Monday by the unravelling of Cable’s new tax plan and Steve Webb slapping his leader down for suggesting that child benefit could be means-tested. Today, the main story is the Cable backlash that has been fuelled by the news that Julia Goldsworthy didn’t know about the new tax policy even though it was notionally in her own remit and Chris Huhne’s admission that colleagues hadn’t been consulted about it. Ming Campbell telling the party to “grow up” isn’t exactly helping either. It is hard to see how this conference isn’t going to end up being a net negative for the Lib Dems and thus a net plus for the two major parties.