It is probably fair to say that the advent of Nick Clegg, the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, has not been greeted with unalloyed joy by our Conservative opponents. Indeed, it would hardly be wrong to say that the past few weeks has seen some "pretty robust" debate between Conservative and Liberal Democrat bloggers. Even the Queen Mum of blogging, the generally genial Iain Dale seems to have been featuring as many stories as he can to try to show Liberal Democrats in as poor a light as possible.
Neither, to be fair, has the traffic been all one way: I have "fisked' Mr. Cameron's rather half-baked proposals on health, and attacked several of the Conservative positions that have emerged from the fog of their policy making process. Most Liberal Democrats have attacked the Conservatives probably with more vigour even than the distrusted, discredited Labour government.
So what lies behind this sharper debate, this emerging war in the blogosphere?
Partly- in my view- it reflects a fundamental similarity between the tactical position of the two parties. Both are opposition parties, combating an intensely cynical and centralising labour government. In that sense the two parties face a tactical overlap. Partly, also, the Liberal Democrat and Conservative bloggers are more oppositional and a whole lot more lively that the generally rather dull -even complacent- Labour blogging world.
However, it also reflects a fundamental disconnect between the two parties. Ever since Cameron became leader of the Conservatives he has tried to put his tanks on the Liberal Democrats' lawn, by trying to claim "liberal" positions for his party. However, the way he has set out liberal aspirations is seen by most Liberal Democrats as fundamentally dishonest.
The major example- though not the only one- is that he has shifted the Conservative ground to oppose the illiberal idea of ID cards. Liberal Democrats have always opposed ID cards- on principle- but initially Michael Howard, the then Conservative leader, supported them. The shift by Mr. Cameron, is portrayed as being of the same root as the consistent opposition by the Lib Dems. Yet in fact the Conservatives have in fact been inconsistent, and this has excited deep suspicions that the whole of Mr. Cameron's "Liberal-Conservative" strategy is not about principle, but simply to drown out the Liberal Democrats. Were that to happen, then the Conservatives electoral advantage, once gained, would not be used for liberal policies, but rather variations of the same old Conservative centralism and authoritarianism.
Liberal Democrats would argue that the only proof of Mr. Cameron's sincerity would be a commitment to change the electoral system.
Rather than Mr. Cameron's newly minted "liberalism" being seen as a necessary change of view from a party which has had to leave behind much of its previous policy baggage, it is seen as a direct challenge not just to the Liberal Democrats but also to Liberalism by a Conservative party that has not in fact changed very much, but which instead intends to do lasting damage to Liberalism.
I have always opposed Socialism, in all its forms. I believe in the transformational power of individual freedom. However my ideology, informed by JS Mill and John Locke is not the same as the Conservative ideology informed by Burke. I resent the constant implication from Conservatives that the ideology which they partially claim for themselves- Liberalism- is irrelevant in the hands of the party which claims all of the mantle of liberalism: the Liberal Democrats.
Despite being often patronised and sneered at, I am still happy to go head to head with the Conservatives, and in many ways that is a more productive and rewarding debate than one with the ideologically bankrupt managerialism of the Labour party. So in the sharp debate that is emerging between our two parties, I would say "Vive La Differance".