The government has faced a difficult few weeks, with budget cuts and the VAT rise dominating the front pages. And now there are several reports of the carefully papered over ideological cracks within the coalition beginning to reappear.
Within Lib Dem ranks there are many who feel very uneasy about the link up with David Cameron’s party. Several voted against the government when the VAT rise came before the Commons and others have spoken against schools cuts and the coalition’s health policies.
And now backbencher Tim Farron has voiced the feelings of many with an outspoken attack on the Conservatives, calling Tory MPs “toxic” and claiming that Cameron is using his party as “cover” for unpopular decisions.
Farron has been sceptical about the coalition deal since it was agreed and believes that the two parties have a “poor ideological fit”. He also believes that the Lib Dem brand has been diluted as the party is increasingly seen as an extension of the Tories. And this is backed up by opinion polls which shows Lib Dem support has fallen to just 14%.
The party’s newly elected deputy leader Simon Hughes, who beat Farron in the contest for the job, has said his party would have voted against the government’s schools legislation if they had not been in the coalition. This will only fuel backbench worries that the party is merely following a Tory agenda.
But some on the Conservative right are not overly happy to be in government with the Liberals either.
David Davis, twice a failed leadership candidate, was quoted as dismissing Cameron’s Big Society as “a Blairite dressing” for plans by the coalition plans to cut the role of the state.
Davis was also reported to have approvingly repeated a description of the partnership between Cameron and Clegg as the “Brokeback Coalition”, which he attributed to another senior Tory.
Entering a coalition with the Tories was always a high risk strategy for Nick Clegg’s party.
The Deputy Prime Minister finds himself defending massive public spending cuts and a VAT rise; both of which he campaigned against during the election. And facing falling opinion poll ratings and growing unease in his own party it will be a difficult summer for Clegg.
The Liberals are currently struggling to maintain an identity as a party. Unless Clegg can convince many within his own party that he is capable of doing so the possibility of damaging splits will rise.
Can Clegg paper over the cracks once more? That’s the question that many commentators will be asking in the coming months.