Vince Cable today launched a venomous attack on the Conservatives, accusing his Coalition partners of stooping to “dog-whistle politics” and being hostile to immigrants, benefit claimants and trade unions.
The Liberal Democrat Business Secretary attacked the blinkered “Tea party Tories”, scorned the party’s growing hostility to the European Union and tore into the “Tories’ friends and donors” whose greed triggered the credit crunch five years ago.
He devoted large sections of his keynote speech to the Lib Dem party conference in Glasgow to an assault on the values and priorities of senior Conservatives.
His comments will be seen as a barely-coded warning to Nick Clegg, the party leader, not to become too close to the Tories in advance of the general election and potential negotiations with Labour over going into power.
Many on the Lib Dem left suspect Mr Clegg of instinctively leaning towards the Conservatives, with whom the party has shared government over the last three years.
Mr Cable insisted it had been right to go into coalition with David Cameron in 2010 but claimed the Tories were now reverting to type following the recruitment of the Australian election strategist Lynton Crosby to advise them.
“We have got dog-whistle politics, orchestrated by an Australian Rottweiler, we have got hostility to organised labour, people on benefits and immigrant minorities.”
He accused the Tory party of disapproving of public sector workers, teachers, the unmarried and people who rented their homes.
“I think these prejudices can be explained in part by their age profile - I suspect I would qualify, not on ideology, but on age to be a member of the Young Conservatives.”
He claimed they were driven by a “simple calculation” that “competence requires callousness”.
Mr Cable told activists: “That is not our kind of politics. It is ugly and we will not be dragged down by it. That is why our Liberal Democrat message about fairness is absolutely key.”
He added: “We are not just a nicer version of the Tories. There are fundamental differences about how we create a stronger economy and more jobs.
“We are five years on from the biggest market failure of our lifetime. Financial capitalism collapsed and was rescued by the state.
“Labour was in charge, falling asleep at the wheel, and they were negligent. But the Tories’ friends and donors were also at the heart of the greed and recklessness that lay behind that disaster. They yearn to return to business as usual.”