24/03/2016 12:07 GMT | Updated 25/03/2017 05:12 GMT

Osborne Is Lost and Alone

After almost a year imprisoned in a dark and comfortless place, the Liberal Democrats have had a rather cheery week, indulging in the guilty pleasure of watching George Osborne and David Cameron making a complete hash of trying to govern without us.

It started with George Osborne's schoolboy braggadocio about abolishing the Lib Dems and ended with him being torn apart by the right wingers we protected him from, following a cruel and foolish budget which would never have allowed to see the light of day.

Never in modern politics history has such a biter, been so painfully bit!

Hubris, that great devourer of over-blown ambition has just taken its first victim in this Government. There will be more. Free of the restraint (I wanted to say wisdom - but that would be boasting) of the Liberal Democrats and now unprotected from the rampages of their own right wingers, this Government does not need a decent opposition to bring them down - they seem more than able to do the job for themselves.

It was never supposed to be like this.

The Osborne/Cameron claim that they are "Caring Conservatives" was always pretty hard to swallow. But to go on repeating this mantra like a failed witches incantations after this Budget and IDS's broadsides only serves to show how out of touch they are.

But the real problem for the two old Etonians is that "Caring Conservatism" was not just the slogan - it was also the strategy. And it is now as dead as a Dodo (I nearly said parrot). This is not just because no-one believes it any longer, but also because the Tory right wouldn't allow it - and, freed from the restraints of coalition they are the ones calling the shots, from forcing the Prime Minister to make a humiliating interruption in a European crisis summit on refugees, to discuss the taxation of sanitary products, to forcing the Chancellor to cut the heart out of his budget strategy (if indeed there was one).

It was never supposed to be like this. But then Mr Cameron has ever been all tactics and no strategy.

It is an open secret that the Tories bet on a second coalition. Osborne's election messages of aggressive welfare cuts were only ever intended as dog-whistle promises to call in the Tory vote. They weren't supposed to become policy - the Lib Dems would see to that, he gambled. The problem is that, without the Lib Dems, the dog has now turned into a pack of ravenous wolves, whose first meal this last week was George Osborne's ambitions and whose second - when they get the chance - will be him.

Never has such a petard hoister, been so comprehensively hoist.

And after Osborne, well we know who comes next. Westminster now resonates with the dark growlings of Tory right-wing malcontents rumbling that, win or lose the Euro referendum, Osborne must go soon and Cameron must follow him soon after.

That's the problem with ravenous wolves. Once the hunt is begun, they always want more.

For all the fact that we Lib Dems are enjoying the delicious schadenfreude of the moment, there is a serious - even tragic point behind all this.

George Osborne is just one pawn in a greater game which we all risk losing. We face an uncertain future over Europe and real challenges with a weakening economy. Britain cannot afford a Chancellor who is so careless with his judgements, or a Government rendered dystopian by a bunch of back-benchers who view every issue through the distorted prism of their anti-European prejudices.

It was never supposed to be like this.

This was supposed, just a brief year ago, to be the new Conservative dawn. It is turning out to be the old Conservative European nightmare.

We were promised that Promethean Cameron would leap forward unbound. Instead he finds himself chained to a chariot drawn by a baying clan of horsemen of the Tory apocalypse.

Remember when they boasted that at last they were free and could govern by themselves? Well now they are and, as Laurel and Hardy would have said, just look at the fine mess they have got themselves into!

Never has such a carefully prepared bed, been so excruciatingly painful to lie in!

Lord Ashdown is a Lib Dem peer and former party leader