06 May 2011 1:18 PM

Instead of the rose garden

After today's Lib Dem traumas, another "love-in" by David Cameron and Nick Clegg in the Downing Street rose garden is being firmly ruled out.

However, I hear the two leaders will make a joint appearance towards the end of next week, to promote the Coalition's policies to promote employment.

"There's not going to by any renewing the vows," sighs an insider, clearly wearied by wedding analogies about the not-so-civil partnership.

This is the first sign of how they will handle their future relationship in public - unity but not chumminess. Helping the jobless is the sort of issue that aids the image problem that Clegg referred to when he spoke of northern and Scottish voters being afraid of "Thatcherism" coming back.

Lib Dem sources say Clegg is not so much trying to change the direction of the Coalition as change the perception that it is a Tory-led government with Thatchernomics at its core.

But that's not aggressive enough for some of his colleagues.

There is now a clear divide between Lib Dem ministers in the Cabinet. Some, like Chris Huhne, aim to revive activist support by distancing themselves from the Conservatives. Others, like Danny Alexander, appear to see long-term success in showing resolution and sharing the credit when the economy improves.

What do their Tory colleagues think?  Ministers say the Huhne faction is making a big mistake in distancing themselves from George Osborne's economic policies. (And I'm aware some of you may be reminded of the immortal words of Mandy Rice Davies: "They would say that, wouldn't they.") One senior Tory says: "There is no point in taking all this pain without at least being seen as a successful partner in turning around the British economy."

Of course, now that polling day is over, the hostilities are diminishing. Paddy Ashdown very slightly ameliorated his eye-watering attack on Cameron by saying he had respected the PM before the AV campaign. Huhne, Cable and Farron have kept their swords sheathed.

I'm sceptical that the Lib Dems can benefit by publicly breaking ranks with Tories in Cabinet. It smacks of a core vote strategy and an abandonment of Clegg's attempts to reach out to new supporters now that he leads a party of government rather than one of protest. And voters hate disunity.

Anyway, there is already a perfectly good anti-Tory outlet for the votes of those who still seethe about 1980s Thatcherism: It's called the Labour Party.

Joe Murphy


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