The Daily Telegraph's latest invidious political intervention is both embarrassing for the Liberal Democrat ministers involved (but not shocking) and another sad indictment on what is left of what is erroneously referred to still as our 'quality' press.
Their only motive can be to injure (and so kill off) the Coalition. Why else reveal in an underhand fashion what we all know to be so? Ministers do, have done, and always will disagree privately. It shows poor judgement to mouth off to strangers about internal Government politics but the predictably shrill reaction has princpially addressed Government 'splits', not the behaviour of Messrs Davey, Moore, Webb and Cable.
The search for internal splits in this Liberal-Conservative coalition is laughable. For who can remember a Government more united in opinion, direction and purpose than this? The Labour Governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown fail utterly on that count, as did John Major's before them and Margaret Thatcher's. It seems counter-intuitive, but coalitions can forge stronger bonds than single parties, by virtue of shared pains in reaching an accord.
What this little (soon to be as irrelevant as One Direction) episode brings to my mind, however, is less about Government unity (it remains very strong) than the rabid, vicious and insatiable appetite for criticism of politicians by the media and the public, regardless of truths and good intentions. It is criticism for criticism's sake; destructive and irresponsible.
It calls to mind the words of Sir Robert Peel, writing to the free trade campaigner Richard Cobden, shortly after the repeal of the Corn Laws in June 1846:
Such a position as mine entails the severest sacrifices. The strain on the mental power is far too severe... But the world - the great and small vulgar - is not of this opinion. I am sorry to say they do not and cannot comprehend the motives which influence the best actions of public men. They think that public men change their course for corrupt motives, and their feeling is so predominant that the character of public men is injured, and their practical authority and influence impaired.The Liberal Democrat and Conservative politicians who have joined together in Government have done so against many of their insincts, enduring "the severest sacrifices", because it is the right thing to do. Their actions and private thoughts since do not betray "corrupt motives" but the desire to work together in the national interest.
The Daily Telegraph's reaction to this is to injure the arrangement and impair its practical authority and influence. In these present circumstances, it is an arrangement far more conducive to sorting out our country's problems than a minority Conservative Government. We either like that, or we grin and bear it.
Regrettably, it is something that decision makers at the DT, in Peel's words, "do not and cannot comprehend".