Lib Dems are excitedly travelling to their Spring conference in York, which kicks off this evening with the traditional rally (hopefully a stand-up free one, though). Vince Cable and Tim Farron will be cheering the troops at tonight’s event, with Nick Clegg offering a Q&A tomorrow and his main speech on Sunday afternoon. Party figures expect the conference to be reasonably serene: there are no party rows this year, and the only real bickering is manufactured Coalition stuff, rather than a genuine crisis.
As I explain in my Telegraph column today, one of the things the Lib Dems are increasingly keen to do is to argue that key policies and government victories are all down to them. Danny Alexander will talk tomorrow about the ‘DNA of the recovery’ being a Lib Dem one, and the party is very keen to claim that city deals are all theirs. There has been a fair bit of pushing and shoving over who gets to announce the next round of those deals as they guarantee a nice chunk of coverage in the regional press and are the fun bit of government.
All this is fairly understandable in a coalition. But it’s worth looking out for the personal rows, where it’s not just about policy differences, but also bitter bickering. There’s a big difference between the way the Lib Dems and the Tories interact over Ministry of Justice, issues, for instance, where Chris Grayling has a perfectly amicable relationship with his coalition counterparts, and the Education or Home Office briefs, where relations have soured. The bickering over Education is, as I blogged yesterday, very amusing given the parties do agree on most of the reforms this department is working on anyway. The Lib Dems enjoy bashing Michael Gove, but insist that, contrary to some reports, they have never carried out polling on Gove and wouldn’t pick a fight with him just because the polling told them to. But they can’t even agree with the Tories on this: a Conservative source tells me that the Lib Dems have admitted in conversations at the highest ranks of government that they do have polling on Gove which tells them to attack him but that the Tories shouldn’t take such behaviour personally. Which means the two parties are now bickering about why they are bickering. How edifying.