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Did Vince Cable get special treatment?

22 December 10 13:46
Vince Cable
By Vicki Young
Political correspondent, BBC News

The Daily Telegraph's revelations shine a light on the tensions behind the scenes in the coalition.

Many at Westminster believe Vince Cable owes his survival to the fact that his departure would have been destabilising to the government.

Some Conservative MPs are irritated that the business secretary seems to have enjoyed special treatment.

He has been accused by the prime minister of making false suggestions about the future of winter fuel payments, stripped of some of his ministerial responsibilities and slapped down in public.

Few believe a Conservative minister would have clung onto their job in such circumstances.

Former Conservative minister Lord Young said the treatment of Mr Cable suggests there is one rule for Tory members of government and another for Liberal Democrats.

Lord Young was forced to resign as an unpaid business adviser to David Cameron last month after telling the Daily Telegraph that most people had "never had it so good ever since this recession".

And when asked if there were different rules for members of different parties, the Conservative peer told BBC News: "Superficially, it does appear that."

Nick Clegg has denied Mr Cable had been spared the sack to prop up the coalition, saying the decision to strip him of his regulatory powers was "taken on the facts of the case".

Mr Clegg and David Cameron have both talked openly of the differences that exist within the coalition government.

'Too cosy'

It is embarrassing that these differences have been made public and it shows the dilemma many Lib Dem ministers face.

They do not relish working alongside Conservatives.

In fact, many came into politics to fight the Conservatives. Now they are in government they feel a duty to show loyalty to the coalition.

But as the junior partners they're also deeply concerned about being swallowed up, getting the blame for policies such as tuition fees but none of the credit for reducing the country's budget deficit.

They want to tell people about the influence they are asserting behind the scenes, "softening the edges" of Tory policies, but they have to be careful not to paint their coalition partners as the "nasty party".

Arguably the most interesting quote from the Telegraph's undercover reporting comes from Pensions Minister Steve Webb.

He suggested that attempts to present a united front meant the Coalition looked "a bit too cosy".

That upsets Lib Dem activists and allows Labour to depict the junior coalition partners as impotent.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has sharpened his attack on the Lib Dems, ridiculing them as passengers not in the front seat, but passengers who have got themselves locked in the boot.

'Shocking truth'

Optimistic types in the Lib Dems think there could be a silver lining to all of this.

Having their MPs "exposed" for raising concerns about the impact of welfare cuts will go down well with the rank and file.

As the party's President Tim Farron put it - the Telegraph should be congratulated for "uncovering the shocking truth that Lib Dem ministers have got minds of their own."

The crucial question for the stability of the coalition is how much of this Conservative MPs on the right of the party will take.

One has told the BBC that the Lib Dems are being "pampered" by the prime minister, while they feel ignored.

A big test for David Cameron will come over issues such as giving prisoners the vote.

Suddenly attention will focus on Tory discontent rather than Lib Dem woes.

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