Coalition marriage stronger than it seems

David Cameron and Nick Clegg Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption What is striking is not the coalition's differences but what unites them

Imagine, just for one moment, if your partner, husband or wife declared that they'd only "shacked up" with you as they faced a choice between the "rather unpleasant" and the "utterly appalling"; you are "witless" and would be a "nightmare" without them and "divorce is inevitable".

I hazard a guess that you would be less than entirely chuffed.

That, though, is what one partner has said about the other in the political marriage which is our coalition government.

The venue was the Lib Dem conference - the equivalent of going out for a night in the pub with your family and friends as they demand to know "how on earth can you possibly stick it?"

Instead of complaining about the way their partners squeeze the toothpaste or leave their dirty socks out, the Lib Dems message this week is "the Tories love the rich, are euro nutters and want to lock up young kids for life without trial...thank god we're there to keep them sane."

Be wary, though, of taking this rhetorical differentiation too seriously.

On the top rate of tax, Lib Dems are not saying that it cannot be scrapped - simply that it can't go now and, when it does, other taxes on the rich will have to go up.

On curbing top executives pay they are only launching a consultation into how to have greater transparency - a policy the Conservatives advocated before the last election.

On tax avoidance they are demanding a crackdown which the Tories are quite happy to back.

What is striking here is not the coalition's differences but what unites them. There have been no calls I have heard here for a change of economic policy, for spending cuts to be slowed down or less deep or for an emergency growth package.

Vince Cable has spoken of a "New-Deal-style-stimulus" but he does not mean that the government should spend more than it is planning to.

He is arguing - as Nick Clegg did in less striking terms last week - for infrastructure spending to be accelerated and to be focussed on things which lever in private investment (eg toll roads) and stimulate growth (eg broadband).