Yesterday the newly elected deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats Simon Hughes fired the first major warning shot across the coalition's ship bows.
It's all coming down to the matter of fairness. Having been canvassing members for the past three weeks there was a noticeable shift in their line of questioning come Tuesday. The reason of course that instead of the speculation of what the budget would bring we had the detail. Simon highlighted one of the concerns the welfare system in this case the pensioners. It's bad enough that many may have to wait longer for a state pension without other benefits being hacked into as well. As he said:
"The coalition deal is a deal. There cannot be any unpicking of items in that deal, otherwise the whole thing risks falling apart."
One key element of that as far as Lib Dems are concerned is that yes we need to tackle the deficit and we need to do it fairly. Impinging VAT increases (although noted bringing us in line or behind most of Europe) , benefits getting frozen while inflation continues and not properly tackling the tax loopholes as we promised are some of the areas of concern. The raise in the personal income allowance and the aviation taxes does offset some of that. Making it a less regressive budget than the Tories had promised during the campaign, but does it really make it a progressive budget?
Of course it is hard to be fully progressive when you have not one but both hands tied behind your back by the level of debt left by Labour. I've heard the Labour arguments that their investments were required to bail out the banks and to secure jobs. Securing jobs is fine but they could have and should have looked at the whole mentality of public sector expenditure before now. At the end of each spending round there are always inventive ways to use up to budget so as not to lose any for the next year. Yet Labour and the SNP are both saying there is no more room for efficiencies. There always has been, and unless something is done always will, the mentality of the public sector is to spend money rather than to save it.
You only have to look at the attitude of many of the MPs caught out over expenses. Some did use the defence it was needed, but the majority claimed it was within the rules as if it was an entitlement rather than a provision if required.
So yes Simon is right to sound a warning shot, and that is all it is, we Lib Dems are prepared to make tough calls on expenditure just as long as you are fair to the poorest in our society when you are doing so. Don't exacerbate their problems for the sake of expediency.