Alex Massie

What is Simon Hughes Playing At?

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The Liberal Democrat's Deputy Leader (that still seems a strange thing to type) and tribune of the left seems to be on manoeuvers. Apparently:

When it comes to the Budget next week, we will vote for the budget. But if there are measures in the Finance Bill where we could improve fairness and make for a fairer Britain, then we will come forward with amendments to do that, because that’s where we make the difference, as we will in the spending review which will follow in the months ahead.

quite content

fairly remarkable

57% of voters think Osborne did the rigth thing for the country even though only 42% think he made decisions that will help them personally.

50% think the budget was fair; just 27% argue it was unfair.

Government approval vs disapproval is now at 46%-28%

And, most significantly, 69% of Liberal Democrat voters think the party was right to support the budget; just 17% think the party made a mistake.

The public, I think, is not at all disappointed by coalition government but may, I suspect, look unkindly upon individuals who threaten to destabilise it unecessarily or so soon in its brief existence. This rule - if it can be considered such - applies especially to the junior partner. Accordingly, intelligence, tact and discipline become important qualities. Sadly Hughes seem ill-equipped in each of those departments. Even more pertinently: when you have nothing useful to say 'tis best to say nothing at all.

The time for these proposals or amendments is when the budget - or other legislation - is being drawn-up, not when it's out in the public domain. The coalition cannot thrive unless it presents a reasonably unified front. That means acknowledging compromises; it doesn't mean challenging them.

UPDATE: Correspondents suggest I'm being unfair on Hughes and that he was merely responding to Ed Miliband's (absurd) "demand" that Hughes and his ilk vote down the budget. Maybe but if it's the case - and it is - that the senior partner in a coalition needs to act with some measure of tact then that rule also applies to the juniors too. And in any case, tempting as it may be for Hughes to consider himself the "internal conscience" of the coalition (yes, I know...) it's not a post that will help his party or, in the longer-run, his own ambitions.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articlePoliticsliberal democrats