The dispute over plans to reform the House of Lords that saw 91 Tory backbenchers rebel against the coalition has set a precedent for public disagreement between the two coalition parties, a leading Lib Dem has said.
David Hall-Matthews, a policy adviser to the party and the chair of the influential Social Liberal Forum, the internal Lib Dem party group that pushes the party in a social democratic direction, said Lib Dem ministers could now be expected to publicly condemn "nonsense" Tory policies that they did not like.
Writing for The Huffington Post on Friday, Hall-Matthews said it was now time for Lib Dems in the cabinet to start declaring what they would do if they won the next election.
His comments come as survey conducted by Tory peer and strategist Lord Ashcroft revealed that the majority of people believed the Lib Dems should have more influence on the overall direction of the government.
The Daily Telegraph reports that 51% said that deputy prime minister Nick Clegg should have more influence, while only 23% said the Lib Dems had too much power.
Hall-Matthews said: "Whatever you think of House of Lords reform, last week’s shenanigans will be good for the Liberal Democrats. Above all, they showed where the most damaging divisions lie in government: within a struggling Tory party,."
"Meanwhile not a single Lib Dem sympathiser will abandon them for sticking up for their democratic, anti patronage principles – even those for whom constitutional issues are not a priority.
"But equally importantly, a precedent has now been set for public disagreement. Liberal Democrats must not fail to seize it.
"Whatever the Tory backwoodsmen think, they would not enjoy ruling as a minority administration one bit. They would get less done, be less popular and be forced away from their core vote.
"So Conservatives do not have any option but to put up with the Lib Dems, like it or not. With little left to lose, the Lib Dems can benefit hugely by making sure they don’t like it. Not just to be a pain – but by standing up for what they believe in."
Hall-Matthews said voters could expect Lib Dem ministers to start pointing out "nonsense" right-wing policies such as "welfare cuts, two-tiered education reforms or ever more random immigration caps".
He adds: "But Liberal Democrat ministers must go further. It’s time to start declaring what they would do if they won the next election too.
"Sure, they may also be shot down by the right-wing press – but at least their ideas will be out there for the public to judge."
Among the ideas he wants to see promoted is Vince Cable's plans for "full-blown wealth taxes" to finance the next rise in the income tax threshold.
Hall-Matthew's comments echo those made on the other side of the fence by senior Tory backbencher Graham Brady, who said on Sunday that Cameron and others in the Conservative leadership needed to start setting out what they would do if they won the next election outright.
He told the BBC that there was "a need for the parties to plan the process of exit from the coalition".
In June the prime minister set out a series of reforms to the welfare state that he would consider introducing if he was able to form a majority Tory government after the next election.
The fallout from the Tory rebellion against Lib Dem-led plans to introduce an elected House of Lords led Nick Clegg and Cameron to stage a show of unity this week, where they both insisted the coalition remained strong.
However this morning the Financial Times reports on a coalition spat that has seen George Osborne blocking Lib Dem energy secretary Ed Davy's attempt to introduce a new subsidy for renewable energy.
The row comes as the energy department's permanent secretary, its top civil servant, dramatically quit her post. The Guardian reports that Moira Wallace's departure will re-enforce the idea that there are "serious problems" in the department.