Labour is in something of a dilemma about how to deal with the Lib Dems. On the one hand, it is an easy attack to claim they betrayed their voters by doing a deal with the Tories and to portray the party as patsies for the real party of government. After all, some of their own have said the same thing.
But Ed Balls, among others, has warned the party not to get sidetracked by attacking Lib Dems and moving the focus away from the Tories. And party leaders have realised that a Lib Dem collapse in the next election just makes a Tory majority more likely.
That dichotomy is summed up in Labour’s attitude to Vince Cable in particular. Adrian Bailey has told me he regards it as part of his role as chairman of the business select committee to “reinforce” Cable, especially in his attitude to manufacturing. He says he thinks Cable is being undermined by other departments and worries that the Tories are not showing him enough political support.
This would be an unusual thing for any sleect committee chairman to say – they are supposed to remain politically neutral in that role at least. But it is doubly so for a Labour MP, who might be expected to attack the coalition on any and every opportunity.
Perhaps this is evidence of the “new politics” about which we hear so much – an end to tribal loyalties and a willingness to show bipartisan support when it is warranted.
But it may also be clever politics – accentuating the idea that Cable is a lefty really and trying to drive a wedge between him and his Tory partners. If that is Bailey’s aim he may be pushing at an open door – Cable has made clear his unhappiness in government (although he hasn’t criticised the coalition to be fair).
But Labour is not entirely united on this approach. Yesterday I conducted an interview with a Labour shadow cabinet member, who was much less complimentary about the buiness secretary. Watch this space on Monday for more details.