I've been mulling over David Cameron's very robust response to Vince Cable's criticism of his immigration speech. In the past I've always thought the PM has bent over backwards to keep his junior coalition colleagues happy. There was none of that friendly cooperation on show today.
"This speech is Liberal Democrat policy," the prime minister said when Cable's comments were put to him. By this logic, the entire weight of the Liberal Democrats backs a policy that it bitterly fought against during the 2010 general election campaign. That is, quite obviously, preposterous. The reality is the Lib Dems gave the Tories free rein in this area as part of the wider coalition deal. Why can't they just come out and say it?
The looming elections are an obvious factor in the game – as I've written about in this analysis piece on immigration being a very convenient coalition punchbag. Perhaps this sort of grandstanding suits both Cameron and Cable. It's not out of the realms of possibility that they might even have agreed to have a very public spat about this issue. Doing so in these terms seems to be taking it a bit too far, though. "The policy is agreed by the coalition. It is coalition and government policy and is being put in place right across the board," Cameron insisted.
Perhaps he is merely trying to get the message across that, despite grumblings from the party responsible for maintaining him in power, he will get immigration down to the tens of thousands, come what may. Is that different to "Liberal Democrat policy"? Obviously, but not according to the prime minister.
He must be careful not to rile the Lib Dems' grassroots activists any more than is necessary, for pressure on the coalition is slowly but surely intensifying.