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.
The fledgling “yes” campaign for AV says it is too early to make premature judgments. The Electoral Reform Society, for example, says that polls will inevitably jump around given that the formal campaigns have not yet started. The referendum is not until May – and could even be in September if rebel Tory MPs and Labour MPs unite to amend the relevant bill.
But our analysis for today’s FT shows that the yes campaign was ahead by 28 points in May (according to ComRes) and as little as 1 point ahead in recent weeks (says YouGov). It may not be a co-incidence that support has dwindled just as backing for the Lib Dems (the main proponents of electoral reform) has also fallen sharply.
I only ask because it was Hughes who first gave a hint two weeks ago that there might be a Lib Dem amendment to the finance bill – only to then retract. A couple of days later Andrew George put forward such an amendment, although in the end only Bob Russell and Mike Hancock voted against their own coalition.*
Now the Lib Dem deputy leader has been on the Politics Show raising questions about the drastic cuts to the Building Schools for the Future programme.