Setting out what "the Lib Dem left want from Nick Clegg", Evan Harris warned his leader not to get too comfortable.
"We must make sure that we are in a position to dock with the Labour party if the parliamentary numbers work and there is relevant policy overlap. Regardless of what a wounded Labour party is saying now," he said.
"Our leader has done a good job for the party and in government, but he has made one major error. Talk of 'fair cuts'. Cuts in public spending of the scale needed (or at least envisaged) are never going to be truly fair or progressive … it is fundamentally wrong to claim the cuts will be fair.
"The government claimed that the budget was progressive in that it hit the rich more than the poor. It did not.
"The majority of the members and activists in the party, in rural and urban areas, in the north and the south, are and remain anti-conservative in their political outlook and philosophy. The party respects and admires Nick Clegg but he does not have a blank cheque."
Here's the full piece in The Guardian.
Interest in keeping open the ability to "dock with the Labour party" in future was evident at today's CentreForum/Fabian fringe, reported earlier.
Harris piece chimes with what one significant strand of party opinion has been saying this weekend. His problem may be that Nick Clegg appears very keen to be seen to be more in leading than listening mode at his first party conference as deputy PM. The leader emphasied stress in his conference Q & A today and across his weekend press interviews (see Patrick Wintour's analysis and Andrew Sparrow's live-blog) that Clegg does not accept the recurring theme of many contributions from party delegates and most non-fronbench parliamentarians - accentuate the differences, to ensure the LibDems retain their distinctiveness and independence within Coalition. The leader believes this risks being self-defeating, because it risks undermining winning public acceptance for the idea of Coalition being good government. (His critics would no doubt respond that it is the essence of both Coalition politics and pluralism). There isn't a LibDem "split" or "revolt" this week but, beyond confirmation that the party will jealously protect its electoral independence from any Cameron hustings embrace, that argument about the politics of being a junior coalition partner is probably the defining theme of the week.
Harris made his point about the problem of a 'fair cuts' rhetoric at a LibDemVoice fringe earlier today, as reported by co-panellist Will Straw on Left Foot Forward.
There are two separate issues here. One is about the budget changes. The frontbench continues to challenge the IFS' argument about the Coalition's tax and benefit changes. (Harris is right to warn that politicians don't usually win arguments with the IFS, as the government's excellent new choice to head the OBR, the IFS director Robert Chote might gently advise).
On the impact of spending cuts on public services, the evidence very clearly shows that Harris is right, as shown by the evidence on the distribution of public spending set out in unprecedented detail by Tim Horton and Howard Reed in their TUC report 'Where the Money Goes' last week. So any substantive attempt at "progressive austerity" would be very cautious about additional, discretionary cuts on a faster and deeper timetable, and would need to revisit the issue of the appropriate balance between taxation and spending, as well as the pace of debt reduction and the contribution of growth. If George Osborne's deficit reduction strategy holds, any claim to deliver "fair cuts" is bound to be shown to be Panglossian.
PS: Why aren't there be more Tories around the LibDem fringe? I can fully understand why LibDems' wanted their conference itself to be a party conference, not a Coalition event. But shouldn't the centre-right think-tanks be bringing coachloads of bright-eyed modernising Tory MPs to talk about localism, inequality and all of the rest of it.
Guido Fawkes is at the fringe to speak up for the libertarian right. But it is beginning to look like Guido might have to hurry up with his next LibDem membership application if he wants to beat Speccy editor and Clegg-fan Fraser Nelson to the muesli.