In fact, many of the rows within Whitehall since last May have not fallen into a predictable party pattern. If anything, ministers have tended to take a stance based on the department they occupy rather than their party’s pre-election manifesto. Immigration was one such issue, where certain Tories surprised their new comrades by being more liberal than the Liberals.
Take BIS, for example, where Lib Dems Vince Cable and Ed Davey are not exactly showing a herbivore sandal-wearing attitude. Last week, Davey and Francis Maude held private talks with Boris Johnson over ways to tackle the London strikes. It was Davey, I’m told, who showed a tougher outlook than Maude, wondering why Britain couldn’t – for instance – have the “minimum service agreements” (used in Spain) to stop public services being crippled by strikes.
David Willetts made a similar point this evening about the need for both coalition partners to share responsibility for all policy, good and bad.
My colleague Kiran Stacey and I wrote a story today about the row in government over Britain’s carbon target and how DECC is trying to push through the recommendations from the CCC (climate change committee) for a 60 per cent cut in emissions by 2030.
Lib Dem energy secretary Chris Huhne (and his Tory minister of state Greg Barker) is meeting resistance not only from Tory ministers (such as George Osborne and transport secretary Philip Hammond) but also his Lib Dem colleague Vince Cable. As someone in Downing Street said to me: “You have ministers who talk to business every day and people who talk to the greens every day, it’s no wonder there is a clash.”
The Guardian has just published a letter from Cable to Huhne which adds more flesh to the bones of the story. It shows how Vince was fighting the corporates’ corner in the argument.
“Agreeing too aggressive a level risks burdening the UK economy, which would be detrimental to UK, undermining the UK’s competitiveness and our attractiveness as a place to do business….I have a number of concerns about supporting the CCC’s recommended level at this time.”
Vince goes on to suggest that Britain can still hit its existing 2050 target (an 80 per cent cut) without the interim targets. By then, of course, he would be nearly 110 years old.
His spin doctor says the letter is three weeks old and things have moved on since then. But the row is still not resolved, according to my sources.
Interestingly – and proving my point – William Hague, the fairly rightwing Tory, comes down on the greens’ side. In another letter in the Guardian article, also to Huhne*, Hague insists that the government should adopt the CCC’s proposals this month in its fourth carbon budget.
“In order to retain public support for our climate policy at home we need to be able to point to similar effort abroad….if our domestic resolve is seen to be weakening, we will lose traction elsewhere.”
Meanwhile it’s also worth a read of this report by Jonathon Porritt into the government’s claims that it will be the “greenest” ever. Out of 77 policies, the coalition is only making good headway with a quarter of them, he found.
* So who leaked the correspondence?