Danny Alexander, not Vince Cable, designated Lib Dem shadow chancellor (oh, and no Lib Dem reshuffle)

speech danny alexander 6The Guardian’s Nick Watt reports today the long-trailed announcement that Danny Alexander, Lib Dem chief secretary to the treasury, will take on the role of the party’s shadow chancellor at the 2015 election:

Nick Clegg has decided that Alexander, his closest ally in the cabinet, will be the Lib Dem Treasury spokesman during the campaign and will face George Osborne and Ed Balls in any television debates on the economy. … The Lib Dems insisted that the election roles for Alexander and Cable were consistent with their cabinet roles. A Lib Dem spokesman said: “We are enormously fortunate to have two talented and well-known ministers on economic matters that are recognised and respected by the public. By the next election Danny Alexander and Vince Cable will have both served for five years as chief secretary and business secretary respectively, so they know their areas inside out. It therefore makes complete sense that they should continue in those roles during the election.”

I’ve made no secret of my view on this: there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Vince Cable should have continued in the role he held in 2010 as the party’s shadow chancellor. He is, quite simply, head and shoulders above any of his colleagues when it comes not only to understanding the British economy, but, just as crucially, explaining it in a way that is both credible and distinct from the Tories.

When we polled Lib Dem members last month on who they wanted to lead for the party on economic policy the answer was overwhelming: by 65% to 24% they preferred Vince to Danny. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the real reason Nick has passed over Vince is because they don’t get on, rather than what should be the most important reason: what’s best for the party. Badly done, Nick.

Elsewhere in Nick Watt’s article, there’s confirmation of what I’d previously reported here — that there will be no Lib Dem ministerial reshuffle:

The Lib Dems announced the election posts as the party confirmed that Clegg had decided against a reshuffle of ministers before the election. There had been speculation that Jo Swinson, the business minister, would replace Alistair Carmichael as Scotland secretary, making her the Lib Dems’ first female cabinet minister. But Clegg, who has a high regard for Carmichael’s energetic role in the Scottish referendum campaign, believes it would be unwise to make changes while the Lib Dems work to ensure that the vow to devolve further powers to Scotland is honoured. “Alistair helped to support a phenomenal referendum campaign,” one source said.

It’s an understandable decision in some ways. The best time to promote Jo (and there’s no doubt she deserves to be in the cabinet on merit) would have been a year ago, when Nick reshuffled his ministerial team. That would have given her 18 months in post, time to achieve something in office. However, she was just about to go on maternity leave. Promoting Jo now would mean she has just six months in post at a time when she’ll want to focus all her political energy on retaining her marginal East Dunbartonshire constituency.

But the decision not to reshuffle does mean the Lib Dems will have gone an entire five years in government without a single one of our female MPs becoming a cabinet minister. That’s not a record in government of which we can be proud.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Joshua Dixon 18th Oct '14 - 12:55am

    As I have said elsewhere, the first 3/4 minutes of this video show why it should have been Cable. Not only can he express economic policy eloquently, he knows exactly how to hold the other party figures to account. A huge mistake from Nick here and one that will not encourage the majority of party members.

  • Paul Pettinger 18th Oct '14 - 1:00am

    The Orange Book finally gets its own Election.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 18th Oct '14 - 1:07am

    This news comes the day after Liberal Democrat Women started a campaign to get Nick to promote one of our women. An email from them said:

    “We are starting a campaign lobbying Nick Clegg to promote more of our brilliant women. We are especially asking him to select one these women to join his cabinet. The Liberal Democrat Party is full of exceptional and capable women who deserve more senior positions. You, as our members and members of the Party, have most probably come across these women – intelligent and determined ladies who against all odds continue to do right by our Party. We believe that Nick must also do his part by affording at least one of these women a place in his cabinet, a place of seniority in his office, a place that is consistent with their experience, expertise and abilities.

    Women are made to battle twice as hard as men, with less recognition of their efforts. It is time to entrench the tagline ‘fairer society’ into the heart of the Party so it is in plain view.”

    Nick is normally pretty good on issues of gender equality, and he deserves credit for his championing of support for childcare and shared parental leave. It is a poor show, though, that it looks like he’s going to get to the end of 5 years in government without promoting one of our fantastically talented women to the Cabinet. He should have sorted this a year ago or more. It’s incredible that Liberal Democrats have been in Government for 5 years and have failed to have a female Secretary of State. The policy stuff is good, but not enough.

    I think to say I’m livid about this is a massive understatement.

    A thought about Vince – how happy would he have been to defend all of the Coalition’s economic policy, do you think?

    Mind you, I’d have paid good money to see him tackle Osborne on migration targets.

  • Ditch. Alexander. Immediately. Walking PR disaster that man.

  • Joshua Dixon 18th Oct '14 - 1:23am

    I want to echo everything Caron has said about gender equality. We have some incredible women in our parliamentary team and its so sad to see that not even one of them will be able to contribute in Cabinet.

    On Vince defending coalition policy, I think we underestimate how loyal he has been to this government and what he has achieved within it. He would relish the chance to take on not just Osborne but, as the video I posted above shows, Ed Balls as well.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Oct '14 - 1:24am

    I’ve not got inside knowledge, but I think I am quite a well informed observer and I think Danny was best for the job. I understand that Vince has more gravitas, but at the end of the day Vince wasn’t able to convince me on some of his opinions and I trust Danny’s politics more.

    When it comes to not being able to get a woman in the cabinet: this would have been ideal, but we know Nick wouldn’t have discriminated against her for being a woman. The Lib Dems have got big problems in this area. I have tried to do my tiny bit by raising the profile of women who stand out for me, more than I would have done for a man, but some women in the party (not necessarily the parliamentary party) don’t help themselves by adopting unpopular positions and then demanding to be promoted because they are a woman. It’s got to be almost entirely based on merit.


  • Eddie Sammon 18th Oct '14 - 1:50am

    The Lib Dems also need to make it an absolute priority to get women like Laura Sandys and Sarah Wollaston on board. I know Laura is leaving parliament, but these really are exceptional politicians and the Lib Dems have no future unless we get more women like these on board.

  • What Paul Pettinger said. This is not based on getting us votes and seats, but on an ideological preferment for centre-right policies. Cable is by far the more able candidate, and yet here we are. Join the dots.

  • Stephen Campbell 18th Oct '14 - 2:41am

    This is not a wise move by your party at all. In the first two years or so, Danny Alexander always seemed to be the man who would be wheeled out to defend some of the most controversial aspects of austerity, even defending policy he once campaigned very strongly against. I remember several times on various news programmes where Osborne was slated to appear, but Danny Alexander ended up taking his place (back when Osborne seemed to have disappeared for awhile). Like it or not, he was one of the big public faces of many unpopular cuts. I don’t know him, obviously, and I’m sure he’s a very nice and decent man at heart, but he’s tainted in the eyes of the electorate and I don’t see him as a political heavyweight in the way that Vince Cable is.

  • This does not bode well.

  • But Cable has a brain!

  • What Caracatus said. He is right on all points.

    We have just had an MP decide to stand down after a ministerial career than did not end in glory. One might have hoped that our leader was now more alive to the dangers of over-promoting people who are really not up to the job.

  • The Lib Dems will have gone an entire five years in government without a single one of our female MPs becoming a cabinet minister.

    But thanks to the electoral brilliance of Clegg and Coetzee we can now point out the 100% of our MEPs are a woman.

  • Bill le Breton 18th Oct '14 - 6:48am

    Another huge issue and perhaps not unrelated to this decision is ‘How are we putting together a five year financial plan 2015-2020 – the Autumn Statement – details to be announced this December?’ and ‘How do we vote together on a Budget in March 2015’?

    The work on the Statement will be in full swing already and our side of the ‘negotiations’ will be under the direction of Alexander with assistance from the other Quad member Clegg and the other unofficial Quad member.

    I really am not sure that Cable could support their aims and objectives for those negotiations. Nor perhaps the tactics. e.g. should the two Parties agree decisions for 2015-16 but withhold full agreement on the following years?

    The Tories are campaigning for a full-on surplus in the next Parliament? We, apparently, for a surplus excluding investment spending. When would those two ‘paths’ diverge?

    Can Liberal Democrats find a mutually agreeable decision on the level of investment expenditure for 2015/16, let alone subsequent years, given our ambitions for house construction, green initiatives, etc. ?

    Really, I don’t think you could have had the General Election spokesperson as anyone other than the person who had been Chief Secretary to the Treasury and who had been fully powered up in Autumn Statement and Budget negotiations and therefore a a full partner with Clegg in the Quad on these decisions.

    IMO, the Parliamentary Party should have insisted that Cable became Chief Secretary at the time of the Tory reshuffle, so that he could have been involved in Autumn Statement negotiations from the outset.

    The point is that our economic policy would be substantially and ideologically different with Cable in that position.

    The Tories would have hated that (enough said). They really have got away with ‘murder’ in the Quad over the last four and a half years. Which is also one of the prime reasons why large parts of the public think that the income tax threshold changes are Tory policies.

  • Martin Pierce 18th Oct '14 - 7:43am

    Unbelievable stupidity by the leadership. Except that after 4 years of this s**t, it’s not unbelievable. Already at rock bottom in the polls they seem determined to to go through another rock and find a new bottom. Never mind Alexander’s politics , which I worry about, he’s just a completely useless communicator.

  • It is as though someone (Nick Clegg?) has decided that there is a danger that the Party might do too well at the next election. Vince Cable has the authoritative voice that is able to undercut the assertions and arguments of both Balls and Osborne. I cannot see how Danny Alexander will be able to avoid finding himself sidelined in any debate.

    Has someone thought that this move might help Danny retain his seat? I would have thought his electoral problems would be more centred around Scottish issues.

    On the up side, giving Danny this role in the election will make renewal and redirection more clear cut afterwards. I am really looking forward to the Party being able to find a more distinctively focused and assertively Liberal identity.

  • This decision, on Alexander, all of a piece with David Laws being in charge of the manifesto process, just shows the process of hijacking the party at its clearest. There are quite a number of former supporters out there waiting for a sign, a realistic sign, that the Party is moving back to where it should be. A decision to put Vince in charge of economic policy for us would have sent a clear signal to that effect. The strategy remains the same; the result next year looks destined to be very bad. I wouldn’t be surprised if this doesn’t trigger a further loss of members and fall in the opinion polls.

  • Caron Lindsay 18th Oct ’14 – 1:07am
    A thought about Vince – how happy would he have been to defend all of the Coalition’s economic policy, do you think?

    Caron — I am a bit bemused by this question in your comment.
    Why should the Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor defend “all of the Coalition’s economic policy” ???

    Promoting Liberal Democrat economic policy is the job of the Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, NOT making excuses for five years of the Tory dominated Coalition’s economic policy.
    Or being an insider and a chum of Danny, do you know something that the rest of us do not know?

  • Richard Dean 18th Oct '14 - 8:24am

    Vince comes across as a nasty piece work. He will be 72 years old in 2015. True, he knows how to spin it so bad that even the LibDems don’t see when he’s doing something they don’t want.

    Danny comes across as a cuddly teddy bear with brains. He will be 42 years old in 2015.

    Not much of a choice, I agree, but most 72-year-olds will tell you that some things are failing, like energy and attention and memory, and have been for some time.

  • Paul In Wokingham 18th Oct '14 - 8:47am

    If you thought the Clegg/Farage debates were a disaster for the party, just wait until Alexander is pitted against Osborne and Balls. The best hope is that they go in swinging at each other and Mr. Alexander says as little as possible.

    If this were a tactical error it would be egregious to an extent that I cannot believe even of Mr. Clegg. So the only conclusion is that it is part of the on-going “rebranding” of the party.

    Yes, we really are expected to campaign in 2015 as “Thatcherites for gay marriage”.

  • Liberal Neil 18th Oct '14 - 8:49am

    Caron – Nick has done well on gender equality in policy terms but very badly in all the areas he has direct control: Lords appointments; staff; SPADs; internal appointments etc.

    The one area he has made some progress is the Leadership Programme.

    Overall he has failed to practice what he preaches.

  • I heard Danny Alexander describe the coalition’s first budget to a group of finance directors in the city. To describe his performance as wooden would be an insult to mahogany. This is a bad decision but one which is neither unexpected nor inconsistent with earlier decisions by the DPM.

  • Memories are short. At the 2010 election it was widely expected that Vince, for the reasons that posters have outlined above, would be the real star in the general election campaign, but this did not actually happen – and this was not just because of Cleggmania but because somehow or other, although Vince did nothing very obviously wrong, his contributions to debates on the economy did not really catch the attention of the media or of the public.

    The conclusion which should probably be drawn is that it will not greatly matter whether Danny or Vince represents us in debates with Osborne and Balls. If we are represented by Danny, Danny will at least have the advantage that he will know precisely what dumb proposals put up to the Quad by the Tories will have been rejected by Nick and himself.

  • I have respect for Danny, but he is a PR disaster.
    Vince has that most rare of gifts, the ability to answer a question that he is asked.

    This does not surprise me :/

  • Tony Dawson 18th Oct '14 - 9:30am

    Caron Lindsay:

    ““We are starting a campaign lobbying Nick Clegg to promote more of our brilliant women. ”

    We do not have any ‘brilliant women’ in Parliament with government experience (though Julie Smith is more than a little bright) . But then we do not have any ‘brilliant men, either. So there is no reason why women could not be promoted. Vince Cable is one of three or four of our MPs who shine more than a bit and he can actually (unlike Clegg and Alexander, Cameron and Miliband) answer a straight question with a straight answer. Hence he has not so much been ‘overlooked’ as ‘looked at and rejected’.

  • David Blake 18th Oct '14 - 9:41am

    Danny was terrible on TV when he was first appointed to his post and he’s only marginally improved. This is a big, big mistake.

  • Bill le Breton 18th Oct '14 - 9:41am

    Hugh p, I am not sure that Alexander/Clegg do block the Tories in the Quad. Obviously they didn’t over the Health White paper. And the stories from Whitehall about the Tories cleaning them up in negotiations are legion.

    I am told for instance that, last December, when Osborne suggested that the two Parties agree to aim for a budget surplus in the next Parliament, they both agreed with alacrity to such a compact.

    When they left the meeting well pleased with what they had ‘achieved’, they were asked why they had agreed. Clegg said, “Well aren’t we as Liberal Democrats in favour of a surplus?” seemingly quite unaware that this required £75 billion of cuts in the next Parliament – £25 billion of which would come (as Osborne immediately reported gleefully to the press) from Welfare Cuts.

    So, what happened next? Despite both Alexander and Clegg briefing the press that the Liberal Democrats supported these cuts, the Party has gradually back tracked. The position being a so called balanced budget that excludes investment spending, which reduces the cuts required by £30 billion, and actually brings us closely in line with Labour’s similar policy.

    This still leaves an eye-watering and frankly unrealistic £45 billion to be found (if welfare is not be cut further than already announced) from the unprotected and undelegated areas of the budget, which presently amount to £110 billion.

    However, the far more significant point is that such an error of political and economic judgment last December demonstrates how poor their understanding of budgetry economics is and how likely they will be over the next 7 months to make further calamitous errors.

    Alexander has been a push-over for the Tories and for the Treasury.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 18th Oct '14 - 9:44am

    Neil, you are absolutely right about Lords/SpAds appointments. There was no reason why he couldn’t have appointed heavily or even all female lists the last twice. And there simply aren’t enough women in the inner Westminster sanctum.

    My view is that the party needs to kick up a fuss about this, the same way we did about secret courts and the Bedroom Tax. It’s too late for this Parliament now, but we can’t allow a situation after the election where women continue to be sidelined.

    Step 1: Get all these fantastic women from Christine Jardine in the north to Julie Pörksen to Layla Moran to Lisa Smart to Vikki Slade, Julia Goldsworthy, Helen Flynn and Dorothy Thornhill elected and get Jo, Tessa, Lynne, Lorely and Jenny re-elected. I don’t buy Iain Dale’s assertion that there will be no female MPs post May. That means people voting with their feet and getting into these seats and making a difference NOW.

    Step 2: Every party body, from Conference to the Federal Committees, needs to take this stuff seriously and kick off to the leadership about it. In the committee elections coming up this month, conference reps have the chance to elect a diverse range of people. We need an effective plan to get the party looking like the society it represents as soon as possible.

  • An awful decision from Nick! No longer sure I can vote for my own party next year.

  • Bill Le Breton – Point taken, but political debates are almost never conducted in a fair and reasonable manner, and if it is not Danny but Vince who represents us, it is all too likely, on your own scenario, that George O. will bring up some policy issue on which Nick and Danny have taken a different view in internal Quad discussion to that being voiced by Vince. That at least would not happen if we were represented by Danny. And I think that in fact your own very reluctant preference is likely to be for Danny, for, as you have said in your earlier post, the incumbent Chief Secretary to the Treasury is the person “fully powered up” with knowledge of the Autumn Statement and Budget negotiations, and, like it or not, it is Danny, not Vince, who is the Chief Secretary.

  • This position beggars belief – but I supposed we shouldn’t be surprised – Clegg and his team of ‘world class’ advisers have called pretty much every strategic and tactical decision wrong.

    On Bill le Bretton’s point about it having to be the Chief Secretary as we are negotiating a five year economic plan for 2015-2020. The solution for that is not to agree any economic programme beyond this year’s budget.

  • Hugh p
    Sometimes it is not the Chief Secretary that matters. It is The Permanent Secretary that really counts.

  • Bill le Breton 18th Oct '14 - 11:04am

    Hugh p – yes, as I said, given the present and likely economic policy (and office holders) of the Party at the general election ‘it had to be Alexander’. Thank you for reading my earlier contribution and underlining this point.

    I am trying to think of a metaphor for a team taking the field with its star player on the subs bench. And KP does not quite fit the bill.

  • Bill le Breton 18th Oct '14 - 11:06am

    Exiled Scott – agreeing only up to end 2015/16? Exactly. Let’s hope so.

  • If the Liberal Democrats end up agreeing to stringent budget cuts in the Autumn statement covering 2015-20 that falls sharply on to the poorest people in society and low earners, followed by the Mach Budget that does the same. It will be electoral oblivion.
    I am really intrigued to see what happens in December Autumn statement, because if it bares NO resemblance whatsoever to the Liberal Democrats 2015 manifesto, they will be ridiculed

  • I’m no fan of Danny Alexander but Cable did not do well at all in the last election campaign. Whilst he clearly has a sharp mind and can clearly express his views when given time to think and talk he didn’t do well at all under aggressive interviewing from the likes of Andrew Neil and came across as old, doddery and easily flustered. I suspect that Clegg is also concerned that Cable’s sensible views on immigration won’t be popular.

    Plus Cable is one of the runners to topple Clegg and replace him.

  • Bill le Breton 18th Oct '14 - 11:20am

    John Tilley – Sir Nicholas Macpherson has been hugely influential in determining our Party’s economic policy, alas. Just the sort of person to ‘help’ Alexander with the detail and just the sort of ‘Head of Upper School’ who Clegg and Laws used to look up to when in ‘Middle School’.

  • Oh dear dear dear. Lindsay et al – what is the point in getting all cross and doing nothing? If you sit around like wimps and allow a small clique to take over your party what do you expect? One of the reasons I supported the Lib Dems in 2010 was because I liked the party’s democratic structure compared to Labour. They seemed a better bet for liberal left politics in the long run. However it’s clear the party has been taken over by a narrow elite who don’t really like you but you won’t do anything about it. I’m afraid in life if you allow yourself to be treated like a doormat that’s what people will do.

  • +1 for this being a bad idea.

    Whilst this isn’t a presidential campaign, I think the concept of a Balanced Ticket is a good one even in UK politics. Nick and Danny are too close politically, both for the party and the electorate. Nick and Vince will be able to attract more support at a time when we need every vote – Vince is, afterall, still a Labour voter’s favourite LibDem.

    In short, believe we would only be showing part of who we are as a party if it was Nick/Danny rather than Nick/Vince.

  • Bill le Breton 18th Oct '14 - 11:44am

    Jack who thinks ‘Cable did not have a good 2010 election’.

    Here is the story. Cable went into the election the darling of the Party and of the media for seeming to be one of the very few people anywhere in the world who had ‘warned of coming Great Financial Crisis’.

    Clegg was so worried that Cable might ‘steal the show’ during the election and might use his position as economic spokesperson to entrench our economic policy with its diametric opposition to the Tory policy of expansionary fiscal contraction that he and his General Election team hatched the plan that the two, Clegg and Cable, should travel everywhere together as a ‘unit’. Living proof of the adage, ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer’.

    The dates and programme were set and the pair duly set off around the country like twins joined at the hip. Rather a wasteful use of two such prominent members of our Party.

    However, the Manchester Debate produced Cleggmania.

    Cable was immediately informed that his election diary had been changed and he was ‘given’ another programme. One can imagine the gigs he was now given! Burnley on a Friday afternoon, perhaps.

    Not content with this, the General Election team insisted on providing Cable with their choice of ‘minders’. There was quite a battle over this. One can imagine Cable and his close political allies trying to give the minders the slip, rather in the tradition of Richard Hannay in 39 Steps. Well, actually a bit like some East European concert pianist on a tour to the USA trying to slip his ‘stasi’ escorts.

    Anyway, if Cable did not have a great election – and that was not my recollection – it was not entirely his own fault. “Sutherland on Monday morning”.

    The point is that Cable remains the best economist in the House of Commons. The person best qualified to have been given the task of producing a distinctively Liberal Democrat position on the Autumn Statement and a future budget.

    (Why do those who ‘dis’ Cable never publish their full names and Party membership affiliation?)

  • In the ‘two horse race’ we are now to be lions led by (given the nod)ding donkeys. 🙁

  • (Why do those who ‘dis’ Cable never publish their full names and Party membership affiliation?)

    Certainly not because they are on the payroll.
    Or part of a shady group within the party who would sooner see the loss of all our MPs than admit they might be wrong.
    Anyone who might suggest such a thing would soon have their comment consigned tothe memory hole.

  • Stephen Donnelly 18th Oct '14 - 12:24pm

    The problem with Vince is that his views are his own, whilst politics is a team game. Clegg had no real choice, even though Cable is clearly the better qualified, and has been an excellent business secretary, he has too often gone his own way. Remember the student loan (political) disaster.

  • Stephen Donnelly – yes but the problem is that the ‘team’ has become completely unbalanced and isn’t representative of the wider party.

  • Neil Sandison 18th Oct '14 - 1:28pm

    Perhaps Vince Cable should take on a Micheal Heseltine role which challenges the orthodoxy of Westminster politics and encourages local enterprize and regional development away from the london centric economics

  • Fully agree with Caron on this, but I can’t see anything changing between now and the election, and, after the election it won’t matter; so I also agree with Frank Booth. We’re locked into a course of diminishing returns as regards equality and unless we fight for change, the current power elite of middle class white men will continue to make terrible choices as regards our future. Sadly, some here helped the current set of middle class white men into place, so this is the start of the long season of roosting chickens.

  • Conor McGovern 18th Oct '14 - 1:45pm

    I agree with ATF about the importance of a balanced ticket. Although I’m less inclined to jump on the ‘Orange Book Hijacking’/’Clegg Coup’ bandwagon, I’ll freely admit that this is a poor move by Clegg, much worse than putting David Laws in charge of the manifesto process, and another decision that rides roughshod over the membership’s views. See tuition fees, secret courts and Syria for a quick memory-jog.

  • This isn’t about political balance. It is about best perfomer in a key role.

    Watch an interview by Danny with a media heavy hitter (eg Andrew Neil recently – or Stephen Nolan just prior to 2010)

  • My sense is very much that Clegg can’t work with another adult in the room. This perhaps explains both his dismal choice of advisers and his sidelining of Cable. A different person would see Cable’s obvious ability as a huge advantage to be exploited politically but my reading of the tea leaves says that Clegg sees others’ talents as a threat per Bill le Breton’s comment above.

  • Technical Ephemera 18th Oct '14 - 8:14pm

    On the face of it this looks like the Lib Dems have taken to self harming. Cable actually has gravitas, although the fact he has basically been ignored by the government for the last 4 and a half years has damaged the brand.

    However is this not a strategic rebranding of the Party as The Conservative Party for sane people? Presumably the thinking is that this may encourage moderate Tory switchers in Lib Dem / Tory marginals.

    Or your party strategists have just lost the plot. I am confused.

  • Matt (Bristol) 18th Oct '14 - 11:52pm

    Whatever you think about Danny Alexander, I don’t think you can argue that the public really recognise that he has opinions that differ significantly from those of George Osbourne. As economic poster-boy for Phase 1 of the coalition, where we tried to be as matey as possible with Cameron’s lot, he is the LibDem most associated with austerity, etc…

    Whereas, most people see Vince taking his own line, having distinctive views. Do we want the party to have a distinctive economic perspective from the Tories, and be recognised as such?

    Clearly not. Gah.

    However, I hope he can prove me wrong?

  • Do we know for sure that the split of responsibilities was not Vince’s preference? He has been Business Secretary not No.2 in the Treasury and can therefore speak far more confidently and credibly in that area. I wish Vince was leader and maybe there is time and if he would stand I would vote for him, but if the debates on the economy are going to get nasty, on a personal level he is better off staying clean and Vince does have a history of ducking the awkward jobs after all.

  • Well that decides finally how busy, or otherwise, I shall be in the spring.
    The party will be worth fighting for after the smash that we’ve been watching coming for 41/2 years now.
    Alexander performs awfully, and will be debating against (?) his own departmental head!
    I agree btw that only Charlie K and Carmichael will be returned north of the border, and the SNP hated DA and were aiming to remove him even before his astounding fawning over, err, Alistair Darling’s performance in the debate v Salmond. The Nats have 55,000 new members, if even one in four is active they have a huge and energised new machine!
    Anyway, it’s the ineptness of the leadership I despair of, not their

  • Steve Comer 19th Oct '14 - 1:06am

    Once again we see Nick Clegg’s bad judgement. Impossible for Danny Alexander to be in the ‘Chancellors debate’ when he has been Osborne’s no 2 for the previous 5 years. I agree that Vince may not have been the best choice, but what about Steve Webb? I’ve heard several of his interviews on Radio 4s Money Box, and he comes over as knowledgeable, able to to explain complex issues concisely, and good at answering difficult questions.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Oct '14 - 1:19am

    My man in the Bank of England is sounding off again and unfortunately I have seen neither Cable nor Danny make as strong analysis.

    I like that Cable is urging more tax increases, but I dislike his approach to interest rates. I don’t know where Danny stands on this, but I just give Danny the nod based on ideology.


  • I am a big fan ofboth Nick and Danny but think these are two poor decisions

  • Nigel Quinton 19th Oct '14 - 9:41am

    Just as I was feeling that in the absence of any credible alternative and in the afterglow of Nick’s excellent conference speech, here is another completely wrong headed decision to make me think again about offering my help in the next very few months.

    Surely in any event the sensible policy now is to leave the coalition and allow our MPs to finally say what they really think? And maybe have a better chance of retaining their seats as a result.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 19th Oct '14 - 9:56am

    It seems that Danny will inded fail, but should be allowed to do his best, to retain his seat. Appearing in these debates will not assist him nor the party. If we wish to help Danny we should prevent him ‘being fed to the wolves’ for no good purpose at all. Vince has a better chance to retain both his seat and help the party to re-focus its economic position. But maybe loyalty to a friend is more important than the future of a great party. I know what I would do though.

  • Technical Ephemera
    Of course, attracting soft Tories is the name of the HQ game, as in all things in Clegg’s “centrism”. Where the HQ advisers have, as you say, lost the plot, is in that such a strategy has been Clegg’s policy all along, and we have seen just how minimal an effect that has had on Lib Dem poll ratings!

  • Steve Comer
    As a big fan of Steve Webb, I agree with your idea. However, while we are focusing on Clegg and Alexander in this thread, we had better remember the disastrous airborne conversation between the two, managing to be overheard giving candid views on their various colleagues by a journalist. Their view on Steve was more acerbic than most.

  • As has been said in several places, the total lack of judgement (or more likely humility) at the top means that things will simply continue to drift gradually downwards all the way to the election and probably beyond. We had our chance to turn away from the abyss after the Euro debacle, but our senior MPs and other figures were nowhere to be seen.

    Likewise when Caron says “My view is that the party needs to kick up a fuss about this, the same way we did about secret courts and the Bedroom Tax,” I think it shows an unwillingness accept personal responsibility as well. We have kicked up fusses and been ignored and demeaned by the party leadership, but after every fuss, Caron has returned to the “true believers” fold.

    Caron, the problem is Nick and his unwillingness even to acknowledge his responsibility for his failures. However, repeatedly saying we have a problem when it affects our areas of concern but failing to learn from the lessons of others as part of a broader consensus, makes us part of the problem. I fear it may be too late for you to change now, but reducing our party’s massive problems to one of we are not promoting our brilliant women, really is looking for a solution in our own pet subjects.

    The fundamental problem is the total lack of trust from the leadership of anyone outside their close clique and an unwillingness to accept let alone embrace and learn from the wider diversity in the party as a whole. Ultimately it is not an unwillingness to promote women, but an unwillingness to listen to anyone from outside the team because they may have a moderate difference of opinion. That approach is the anathema to our party’s values, and a betrayal of our heritage. I fear we will all pay the price for many, many years to come.

  • Yet another decision that mutes any enthusiasm I have to campaign for the party next may. Let Clegg be hung by his own petard. Sad that so many good MPs will lose their seats in the process!

  • I should add that I both like very much and have the deepest respect for Danny Alexander. It is sad that we will probably hold on to Sheffield Hallam!

  • This has been a long thread, and it has been disappointing to find that only Bill Le Breton and I have focused on the fact that, like it or not, Danny Alexander is the inescapable choice as our spokesman in three-way debates with Osborne and Balls.

    If it would help to calm those dubious about Danny, can I make three further points :

    (1) Danny’s opponents in these debates will not be supermen, but George O. and Ed B. , and any reasonably
    competent debater, which Danny certainly is (even if he is not Vince), should be able to land some telling blows on both of them.
    (2) Danny and Vince will both be making what hopefully will be well-reported speeches on other occasions during the campaign, and only political anoraks will worry that in delivering them Danny will be billed as our economic spokesman
    and Vince, presumably, as our business spokesman.
    (3) Since successful General Election campaigns do not in fact greatly depend on the identity of individual spokespeople, however able or eminent, it is not going to matter greatly whether our principal economic spokesperson is Danny, Vince or
    Steve Webb.

  • Northcote Parkinson in his Parkinson’s Law book had a chapter on “Injelititis” It is defined as a situation where an incompetent and jealous boss of an organisation only promotes those in his own image leading to the demise of the business unless a secret competent can become promoted by concealing competence by babbling about golf.

  • Nigel Jones 19th Oct '14 - 3:38pm

    I think it is a mistake to have a debate between ‘chancellor’s of the exchequer’. I have often been looked to as the person on our council group who can decide on financial matters, but I always say that while being prudent on expenditure is vital, deciding where money should be gained or spent is subservient to other policy matters. Hence, the debates should be between people who have an overview of the economy,opportunity, standard of living etc as well as government finance.
    Given the decision to focus on the role of chancellor, it would have been wrong at this late stage to switch to Cable, but what matters most to people is not simply government finance, but the whole operation of our economy, where Cable would be by far the best person. He not only knows how that affects business, he also knows how it affects people’s lives. It may well be that too much power lies in the hands of Chancellors and Accountants etc. and that needs to change also, in the way we are governed. I am not suggesting that finance is not at the core, but worked out in isolation from how the economy works ( which is as much about people as it is about money) is a mistake.

  • The decision is consistent with the LD narrative that Labour crashed the economy and the Coalition was a partnership of principle to rescue the UK from a Greek style debt crisis.

    Danny is best placed to argue this case; whereas Vince has dissented from this in key ways.

    Firstly he has always argued that it was a banking crisis starting in the US that spread to the UK rather than Labour’s fiscal policy that that was primarily at fault. He has never suggested that the UK was comparable to Greece. Secondly, he always saw the Coalition as a necessary business relationship given the result of the election, and has maintained his distance from Osborne.

    Yes Danny will be aligned with the Tories against Labour on the economy – but then so is the party now. The Tories profited from the “winter of discontent” for about a generation. For the last 4 years the (with LD support) they have demonised Labour for the financial crisis. The party has lost it’s left leaning supporters and is firmly positioned on the centre-right hoping to stay in Government with the Tories.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Oct '14 - 3:13am

    Dear Paul, I feel strongly that George Osborne is a con man. He’s not an economic liberal or a conservative.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Oct '14 - 4:53am

    By the way, Osborne admits he is in favour of deceitful economic policies, he thinks it is justified because it “boosts confidence”, so Cable was probably right in thinking Osborne might be lying again about the “no new taxes” pledge.

    I still have a personal dislike for someone who wants to repeat a policy that is based on deceit and empirical evidence has shown has mainly benefited the rich. When the poor need money he doesn’t print some and give it to them, but he does when the rich need money. I’ll get my act together very soon and I’m going to go to town on George Osborne’s economic con.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Oct '14 - 5:24am

    Just sent a polite email to the Treasury. It might be powerless, but it is important for people with presently little power to project it in all directions and communicate values.


  • Bill le Breton 20th Oct '14 - 7:31am

    Paul Fox, above, provides the most lucid of accounts of the Liberal Democrat positioning strategy. It should be cut out and stuck on the wall.

    Of course it is also precisely the wrong position to adopt when trying to defend Tory facing seats. It has done incalculable damage to the Party and may yet see its obliteration as a political force for a couple of generations, if not forever.

    It also led to the wrong economic policy being adopted in 2010 via the 2010 ’emergency budget’. We still live with the consequences of that: half a trillion more on the national debt, virtually no reduction in the annual deficit (when RMG pension fund and interest income from assets bought from QE), more QE than would have been necessary and a weakening of the ‘power’ of any future need for QE at the next major downturn, dismal productivity from the use of our national resources, blighted life chances and lost opportunities.

    And the ramifications of that ‘narrative’ are set to continue into the next Parliament, just as the narrative of the ‘winter of discontent’ underpinned the Thatcher and the Blair years.

    It was rather like the little boy who cried ‘fire!’.

  • Paul Fox
    What some of us here say, Change the Narrative. Just because that has been the leadership position for 4 years should not mean it has to remain. I have argued all along that there should be a proper apology for what now is starkly obviously a totally wrong position for the Liberal Democrats. Yes, it would create a hiatus in our politics, but it would set us on the road to the party rebuilding job which so many on LDV have acknowledged as being necessary. The Party has messed up big time, the electorate recognise that. Only our timidity and lack of organisation and in some places, dare it be said, careerism, prevents a wider acknowledgment and motivation to actually take decisive action to move forward in a way consistent with our principles and our traditions.

  • Tim, I don’t support this narrative either. However it is time to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’. This is where the party is and it won’t be changing. Glasgow conference underlined this for me. Its not just the leadership it was the parliamentary party and conference delegates as a whole.

  • Bill le Breton 20th Oct '14 - 5:42pm

    I was not at Glasgow but I am sure Paul Fox reports the situation accurately.

    “Its not just the leadership it was the parliamentary party and conference delegates as a whole.”

    They all appear in a trance like state anesthetized against the reality captured today by Ashcroft polling: Con 28%, Lab 31%, Lib Dem 7%, UKIP 18%, Green 8%

  • Paul In Wokingham 20th Oct '14 - 11:02pm

    5th place. In a national opinion poll. Behind the Greens. And there are still nearly 7 months until the election.

    In the raw data for the Ashcroft poll, 50 people said they plan to vote Lib Dem while 30 people said they plan to vote SNP.

    Does anyone seriously think that the Clegg/Coetzee strategy of appealing to soft Tory voters is working? We might as well be targeting voters in Narnia. Mr. Clegg’s unerring ability to call it wrong knows no limits.

    I want to disagree with Paul Fox and Bill Le Breton – I want to think that there are still people who are prepared to open their eyes to the existential crisis facing this party and take the necessary action to deal with it. This isn’t about economic Liberalism versus social Liberalism. This is about the continued existence of the party that is the standard bearer for any Liberalism.

  • Paul In Wokingham wrote:

    “I want to disagree with Paul Fox and Bill Le Breton – I want to think that there are still people who are prepared to open their eyes to the existential crisis facing this party and take the necessary action to deal with it. This isn’t about economic Liberalism versus social Liberalism. This is about the continued existence of the party that is the standard bearer for any Liberalism.”

    We know where the target seats are, and we know what needs to be done in them. So why is the leadership not actively cajoling every single resource, both human and financial, to work in those target seats from this day to polling day? We shouldn’t even be thinking of doing anything else at this stage. My suspicion is that the leadership simply doesn’t care. They are sleep-walking to the cliff’s edge and will go over if they don’t wake up quick.

  • Bill le Breton 21st Oct '14 - 9:57am

    Sesenco – I think they are relying on (hoping that ) UKIP will do the heavy lifting.

    It was instructive to read Ryan Cortzee’s Oct 11 tweet: “No one knows what’s going to happen.”

    Official: That is our strategy: “qu’est sera, sera”.

    Further to the point about the dominant ‘narrative’ here’s a very good article by Ha-Joon Chang: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/19/britain-political-class-tories-economic-fairytale

    Paul in Wokingham, I can’t write for Paul Fox – but he did post, “I don’t support this narrative either. However it is time to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’. This is where the party is and it won’t be changing. Glasgow conference underlined this for me. Its not just the leadership it was the parliamentary party and conference delegates as a whole .

    Surely it is now better to use energy and resources to make sure good people who have not bought into this narrative get elected or re-elected.

  • Sesenco 20th Oct ’14 – 11:43pm
    “We know where the target seats are, and we know what needs to be done in them. So why is the leadership not actively cajoling every single resource, both human and financial, to work in those target seats from this day to polling day? ”

    Maybe because their very expensive supremo only has experience of elections in one part of South Africa and has not yet got used to the UK system?

  • Paul In Wokingham 20th Oct ’14 – 11:02pm
    “………5th place. In a national opinion poll. Behind the Greens.
    …………. – I want to think that there are still people who are prepared to open their eyes to the existential crisis facing this party and take the necessary action to deal with it.
    ……………………….This is about the continued existence of the party that is the standard bearer for any Liberalism. ”

    Paul — totally agree with what you say, BUT is 7 months to the END of the election, NOT the start of the election.

    If you take out three weeks for Christmas and at least one week when the weather will be too appalling to do much, we have about 8 weeks in 2014 left for campaigning and then in 2015 we will have January, February and the first half of March before the General Election proper begins.

    So maybe as many as 10 weeks in 2015 until the election proper begins.

    In April 2015 the national media will “take over” . If we have not already “won” our key seats by then, even the best MP in the world with the best campaign team in the world will struggle against the tsunami that will come in April.

    The problem with fixed term elections (see USA) is that those guys with the big cheque books and the big media chums bought up the month of April 2015 some time ago.

    So we do not have 7 months, We have maybe 15–20 weeks to make a difference.

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