Ministers told not to goad Lib Dems


David Cameron ordered his ministers not to criticise the Liberal Democrats during the Conservative Party conference, it emerged yesterday.

After senior Liberal Democrats fired a series of broadsides at the Conservatives during their conference two weeks ago, the Tories were expected to return their fire in Manchester this week. Instead, Tory ministers have showered praised on their Liberal Democrat partners.

"The order came down from the very top," one Tory source told The Independent. "We're not trying to be holier than them. It's just grown-up politics. Some activists and MPs wan-ted us to attack the Lib Dems but they will have to be disappointed."

Mr Cameron dropped a line from the draft of his conference speech today, which had a dig at the Liberal Democrats by saying: "They used to shoot our dogs; now they steal our cats." This was a reference to the scandal that forced Jeremy Thorpe to resign as Liberal leader in 1976 and last week's court case in which the wife of John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat MP, was convicted of stealing his mistress's cat.

At the Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham, Tim Farron, the party president, predicted the "ghastly" Coalition would end in "divorce"; Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, warned the Tory right not to become a US-style "Tea Party tendency" and Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said today's Tories were "the descendants of those who sent children up chimneys".

Mr Cable's claim was challenged by George Osborne, the Chancellor, but he went on to praise "the resolve of the Lib Dems", saying they should share the credit for a deficit-reduction plan "that commands the confidence of world markets and has brought stability at home".

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, heaped praise on Nick Clegg, saying: "We should recognise the contribution he makes to turning this country around."

Not everyone is happy. Peter Bone, a right-wing Tory MP, said: "I have no idea why we are being nice to the Liberal Party. I think we have gone a little bit overboard. I was feeling slightly sick at times with all the things that have been said."