Con-Dem Nation,  UK Politics

How do the Lib Dems get out of this?

So this is how it begins. The Guardian is reporting this morning comments Simon Hughes, now the Lib Dem deputy leader, made where he raises the prospect of tabling rebel amendments to the finance bill.

“If there are measures in the finance bill where we can improve fairness, and make for a fairer Britain, then we will come forward with amendments to do that because that is where we make the difference,” he said.

The response of people speaking for Nick Clegg and the leadership? To deny there is any division. “Given that fairness has been built into the budget there are no plans to lay any amendments.” It isn’t so much as the right arm doesn’t know what the left arm is doing its more than the right arm doesn’t want to know. There is an increasing heads in the sand feel to Lib Dem participation in this coalition and a desire to tell themselves that it really can’t be that bad, can it?

Surely that is all that can explain Nick Clegg telling us that the budget, with its benefit cuts and rise of VAT to 20%, isn’t “regressive”? That or he and his Crypto Tory wing of the Lib Dems are quite at home.

He told the BBC: “The top earners make a much bigger contribution than anybody else.”

This despite of the Institute for Fiscal Studies saying that the budget will hit poor harder than rich and Clegg can only square his progressive circle by including reforms announced by Labour (such as the changes to pension contributions).

Robert Chote, the IFS director, said: “Osborne and Clegg have been keen to describe yesterday’s measures as progressive in the sense that the rich will feel more pain than the poor. That is a debatable claim. The budget looks less progressive – indeed somewhat regressive – when you take out the effect of measures that were inherited from the previous government, when you look further into the future than 2012-13, and when you include some other measures that the Treasury has chosen not to model.”

So how do the Lib Dems get out of this? As it strikes me that while David Cameron has some smart advice (get the Lib Dems to sell out to a doomed coalition and lose all support in next election) Nick Clegg has none.