As Boy Osbourne sat down after formalising the inevitable social butchery of Coalition spending cuts, the Tory benches erupted in wild applause. It was pretty sickening to hear, possibly worse to witness live and in the flesh for those Libs inhabiting the Commons. I'm not so sure it was such a bad thing myself. The obvious glee of the barely restrained Tory right might have served as a recruitment drive for a New Model Army, but it also shone a light, yes one of those lights that politicians are busy shining in many a nook and whatnot, on an uneasy Nick Clegg.
I think Mr Clegg may be squirming under the pressure of being shackled to the silent blue hordes. When Labour kicks the bin it is is to Nick Clegg that everyone looks to get a reaction. When the Press analyse policy, it is the Liberal Democrats who invite scrutiny. We/They have become the modern day Ypres salient - break through here and the war is as good as won for those wishing to rush back to the polls or sell a few more newspapers. And, if I can take the WW1 analagy a little further than Douglas Haig managed to advance the line, the relentless bombardment has intensified with the news of an all time low in the opinion polls for the Liberals, this despite the majority of Sun readers agreeing with the cuts and public opinion still seemingly benign.
Nick Clegg certainly didn't like the Institute for Fiscal Studies' findings that the cuts hit the poor hardest. "Distorted nonsense" he decried. He may have a point, we shouldn't see life, the universe, everything as just a profit and loss account disposed to be judged financially. But he must know that the cuts were not in the manifesto, that by and large they were in the Tory manifesto. Cameron has paused and let the coalition partners come panting up the road behind him, full of 'we didn't realise' (tuition fees) and 'the view from here is not what it was from there'. I think Nick Clegg knows his supporters are sceptical at best, that they believe the cuts are unfair and that Tory supporters don't and don't care what his supporters think. If you follow me.
If the party wants me back (and they may not) or even people like me, it might play well to expose the gaps that are now, for the first time, appearing. Liberals have taken gambles in the recent past and most have paid off but if they want this unholy alliance to get anywhere near working they need to publicise their unease. Nick Clegg might feel this is contrary to the spirit of coalition but, like finding a way of making the banks pay big time without chasing them away to their tax havens, pushing the boundaries of dissent against the Tory overlords might just keep the sorry ship afloat long enough to salvage the cargo.