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News, gossip and insight from PoliticsHome Editor Paul Waugh

Huhne v the 'Nasty Party'

Chris Huhne has really gone for it this time.

The man who yesterday accused the Tories of "trashing the [Lib Dems] and Nick Clegg's leadership" has today gone much further.

I'm told that right at the beginning of Cabinet, as the first item of Parliamentary business was discussed, the Energy Secretary asked both the Prime Minister and Chancellor to defend the tactics and tone of the NO to AV campaign.

Huhne was promptly rebuffed by Osborne (see James Forsyth at CoffeeHouse for this bit) who told him formal Cabinet was not the appropriate forum to raise the issue.

(None of this was mentioned at the official Lobby briefing because it was deemed party political).

It sounds like an extraordinary challenge to the authority of the PM (and some would say to the DPM too, depending on whether he was told beforehand about the ambush). [Update: it seems Clegg was not warned beforehand]

Huhne's intervention certainly didn't seem to be part of some concerted operation by the Coalition to manufacture a row to keep their respective bases happy. Apparently some ministers took a sharp intake of breath to see such naked aggression on display.

Huhne yesterday told the Guardian that it was "absurdly short sighted" of the Tories to really go for Clegg and the Lib Dems.

Today, on BBC2's Daily Politics, Jeremy Browne made a similar argument. He said he was amazed that modernising Tories hadn't counselled the PM that the vitriol about the Lib Dems and the Yes campaign could do longer term damage to his own repositioning of the Tory brand.

Browne said the party had moved "quite a long way backwards" towards the nasty party image during the AV campaign.

Is he right or will the public actually just emerge a tad confused about this whole Coalition thingy?

Lib Dem souces tell me that it certainly "was not inappropriate to discuss AV at Cabinet" and point out that it has been before.

Moreover, Lib Dem MPs are undoubtedly furious about the No leaflet that lists Clegg's "broken promises". On issues such as tuition fees and EMA, they feel that their very mature compromises in aid of the Coalition are now being "thrown back in our faces".

One thing's for sure. Huhne clearly has an eye on his own long-term prospects.

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