One of the most striking things about the Lib Dem conference is not that the party has decided to be mean about the Tories in a mildly obsessive and weird way, but that Nick Clegg and colleagues have also been softening the red lines that could really stop them returning into coalition with the Conservatives. At a fringe meeting today, even Vince Cable managed to say a number of nice things about his coalition partners on housebuilding. Asked whether the Tories and Lib Dems had started to disagree over new housebuilding so much that they’d really run out of road to share after 2015, Cable replied:
‘No, there are some positive things that are happening on housing, which we do agree with them on. In my area of government one of the things we’ve established is trading construction as part of the industrial strategy and a lot of very useful, you know, practical things are now being done about skills training, and one particular thing which actually George Osborne introduced and I am very supportive of, at the Budget, was credits for small builders who currently can’t get money out to the banks for love or money, and I would like to see that scheme expanded.
‘So there are a whole lot of things you can do in terms of housing supply where you can get agreement across government I’m not wanting to get into the debate about coalitions and Lib Dems, I’ve had that all week from the press. But just isolating the housing issues, there are things we disagree with them on completely: they loathe social hosting and we’ve had awful side effects of that over the years on the right to buy and its consequences, and they disagree with us on the garden cities as well but nonetheless there are positive things you can do and there are areas of common ground.’
What did become clear from the fringe, perhaps surprisingly for the Lib Dems listening, was that Cable clearly finds it much easier to work with George Osborne than he does with other Cabinet Ministers such as Eric Pickles.