One of the striking themes of the Lib Dem conference two weeks ago was the many attacks on their own Tory coalition partners. There was Chris Huhne attacking Conservatives who “slaver over tax cuts for the rich.”And Tim Farron saying his party had been “tainted” by its association with David Cameron’s party. And so on.
Now at the Tory event in Manchester there is the reverse; a mood of benevolent (if slightly patronising) friendliness is emanating from senior Conservatives towards their allies. There is the occasional dig; George Osborne pointed out that the Liberals, in the late 19th century, opposed attempts to stop people sending children up chimneys. But otherwise it is all bonhomie, and references to “Nick” and “Vince” and so on. As Michael White at the Guardian suggests; they are “killing” the Lib Dems with kindness.
One Tory cabinet minister says that it is all about being “magnanimous in victory“. He is referring not only to the AV result but also to the truth that Conservative polling remains as strong as ever (with an increase in seats in the May council elections) while the Lib Dems appear to be on the ropes.
Another Tory says that by rising to Lib Dem taunts would only draw attention to difficult rows such as the one over the NHS. Instead, the Liberals’ complaints have less impact if they are merely “one hand clapping“.
The fact that the Tories are now being so grown-up about the coalition must be even more galling for the yellow party.