Living as I do mainly on Twitter (as @Boriswatch, mostly) it's been interesting to watch the reaction of LibDem political tweeters. It can, roughly and with no attempt at balance, be summed up as:
- Nonplussed - 'we're actually going to get people into the Cabinet?'
- Elated - 'look at all the things from our manifesto we got the Tories to agree to!'
- Frustrated - 'you Labour chaps left the place in a mess, don't complain about us helping clear it up, we're being responsible and serious'
- Worried - 'when are our guys going to start making the Tories act rationally?'
The next step is presumably some kind of Liberal phony war, with the leadership versus the grass roots, particularly those in places like Sheffield who just saw local government power melt away in the course of an afternoon in order to help Nick look Tough and Serious. Yes, obviously the Lib Dems make a virtue out of being two-faced (correctly so, since only idiots think you can have proper devolution of powers and retain identical outcomes and besides, give me one good argument why what works in Kirkcaldy will work in Peckham) but this is rather different - the man in the street in Kirkcaldy might not care what goes on in Peckham, but he'll sure as hell care when decisions taken by Lib Dem cabinet members start affecting him and this goes for the men in Tinsley or indeed anywhere else. The high profile 'enjoyed' first by Laws and now Danny Alexander doesn't help here.
Likely flashpoint - not the initial cuts, really (opposing giving Sheffield Forgemasters a loan to get into the nuke business is entirely in keeping with Lib Dem policy, after all), but attacks on local government. It's pretty clear for me that Eric Pickles is not a devolution of powers man, almost his first act was to punish the voters of Doncaster for their understandable refusal to support right-wing Libertarian/Tory heart-throb Peter Davies (and, as an aside, isn't it instructive that right-wing Tories love to praise people outside the Tories with particularly loony ideas, as a way of encouraging their leadership to be more beastly to the poor?).
Now, it's entirely possible that Doncaster's problems stem from voting for an idiot Mayor as an alternative to a dysfunctional Labour one-party-state, but the message is pretty clear; they voted for an English Democrat Mayor and Labour council and now have a hand-picked team with considerable powers sent from Tory-run DCLG keeping an eye on things. This isn't a new dawn in hands-off-the-councils policy at work, in fact it's exactly the same as Labour would have done, when we used to call it unwarrantable micro-management and interference in local democracy.
However, one other local government flashpoint came out today on my morning visit from Andy Coulson via the Absolute Radio news. Today's spin - tomorrow's budget will be awfully beastly, but don't worry, council tax will be frozen. This neatly combines two bete noires of principled Lib Dems; spinning policy out via the media rather than Parliament and direct Whitehall interference in one of the few areas local government is truly autonomous - the setting of council tax - in order to force local authorities to take the blame for cuts instead of Whitehall. They'll love that in the LGA. Watch this space. Meanwhile, read James Graham on the Lib Dems in the Coalition.