A loveless marriage
As Chris Huhne will tell just about anyone who'll listen, marriages break down. It's a fact of life. Be it infidelity - is that Ed Miliband I see you flirting with Mr. Farron? - or simply incompatibility thousands of once 'life-long' partnerships break down every year. And there's no real shame in it. It's sad of course, and really we ought to do everything possible to avoid it, but divorce is sometimes the only reasonable option left and in our happy-go-lucky society most of us won't judge people for failing to keep the magic alive. We accept it, we commiserate, we move on.
But sometimes a divorce is made messy. One party doesn't seem able to let go. They cling desperately to their bitterness, rope in friends and family, complain endlessly about their partner's failings and obsess on their inadequacies. When Paul McCartney and Heather Mills very publicly split, sympathy for the former Mrs. McCartney was hard to find. She whinged and she wailed about how terrible marriage to Sir Paul had been. She demanded what many people felt was more than her fair share. She threw water in court and mud in the papers and appeared to be using her divorce not to heal and move on but to avenge old slights and rub salt in still-open wounds. Heather Mills broke the golden rule of a good divorce - she made it a war of attrition. And as a result she painted a portrait of herself as ungrateful, uncharitable and potentially unstable - the British public were not keen.
This week the Liberal Democrats fashioned themselves the Heather Mills of politics. They are obsessed by their impending divorce. From Tim Farron to Vince Cable to Chris Huhne, a stream of breathless condemnations of their soon to be ex-partners filled the conference hall. 'These Tories,' they wailed, 'how horrid they are. We cannot wait to be free of them once more'. The litany of complaints grew with each passing day until, in a storm of ahistoric hysteria, we were even accused of wanting to reintroduce the very child labour that we 'horrid Tories' had worked so hard to outlaw. Like a bitter spouse who can't move on, the Liberal Democrats seem eager that everyone know just how difficult and loveless their marriage truly is.
I can understand the temptation. After all, like a certain ex-Beatle, the Conservative Party's glory days of public adoration are well behind us. The only women rushing, screaming, to greet David Cameron are the good folk of the Fawcett Society waving another Judicial Review. But I still think the Lib Dems are making a mistake by airing their misgivings so crudely, rudely and publicly.
For a start, they're making the coalition itself a little awkward. I was one of those optimistic souls who watched the initial, rose-garden vow-taking with joy in my heart and spring in my step. I believed marriage to the Lib Dems was good for the Conservatives, that this would be the making of us. The ingratitude and contempt on display in Birmingham has soured my view - and that of thousands of other moderate Tories - and made me long for an annulment.
But more importantly to the Lib Dems, this mud-slinging will turn off the public at large. By all means explain where there have been disagreements, where there are differences, but don't shove your ludicrous claim of unreasonable behaviour down the voters' throats. They don't want to know how uncomfortable Chris Huhne is, how emotionally draining it all is for Vince Cable, how much Tim Farron's skin crawls in the company of Conservatives. The public are fine with the idea this is a loveless marriage but they do not want to, nor should they have to, endure four more years of melodrama and soap opera. Their response to Lib Dem handwringing will be the same as that of a good friend to a troubled spouse - 'if it's really that bad, leave him'. And each time the Lib Dems turn round and give a litany of excuses as to why they must stay, the public will switch off a little more and care a little less. They will become the spouse who cries wolf.
It's fine that the Lib Dems aren't in love with the Tories. But unless they can keep their bitterness in check and their soul-searching private they risk being remembered as the Heather Mills of British politics. And that won't do them any favours come the actual divorce.