NEW POLL: if offered the job by Gordon, should Vince accept the post of Chancellor?

The right-wing blogosphere is fairly wetting itself today, picking up on the ‘exclusive revelations’ of the Daily Mail’s Peter Oborne that Labour is allegedly cosying up to the Lib Dems in anticipation of a pact which would see Ming Campbell elected as Commons Speaker and Vince Cable installed as Chancellor:

Although the PM recognises that it would be inconceivable to elect another Labour Speaker, soundings have been taken among the Liberal Democrats. The Whips’ Office has already launched a campaign to get Labour MPs to back former LibDem leader Sir Menzies Campbell to become the new Speaker. This arrangement would mean that Sir Menzies (who, incidentally, possesses the personal distinction and authority to make a very good Speaker) is highly likely to get the job. Indeed, he would be the first Liberal Speaker of the Commons since William Court Gulley at the end of the 19th century. …

and all the signs are that Gordon Brown is warming to the idea of Vince Cable as Chancellor of the Exchequer in a government of national unity.

Personally, I think Mr Oborne’s story is worth much less than the sum of its parts; and, as so often, he’s parcelling up a number of events and some fevered speculation into a far-fetched package.

For a start, that the idea of ‘Lib/Lab cooperation’ is being broken by Mr Oborne himself is grounds for suspicion – if either parties wanted to prepare the ground, they could scarcely have chosen a less sympathetic journalist. And Mr Oborne is hardly plugged into the close counsels of either Nick Clegg or Gordon Brown.

Moreover, I find it hard to believe that Vince – a serious, grown-up politician – really believes that becoming Chancellor in Prime Minister Brown’s Labour cabinet would give him real power over economic policy. The evidence that Mr Oborne produces – a paragraph from Vince’s recent article for the Mail on Sunday emphasising the need for unity politics in times of economic crisis – seems very thin to me.

What I think is conceivable is that Mr Brown is laying some groundwork for warmer relations with the Lib Dems. Ming is a political friend of Gordon’s, respected on all sides of the Commons chamber. It’s easy to see why the Prime Minister might prefer Ming to the political storm that would greet attempts by Labour MPs to install a third successive Labour Speaker.

Similarly, the Prime Minister’s decision to allow Lib Dem shadow cabinet members to meet Whitehall’s permanent secretaries to discuss the party’s manifesto – traditionally a preserve only of HM’s Official Opposition – is pretty canny politics, simultaneously making nice to Nick, while cocking a snook at Dave.

Anyway, over to you, LDV’s readers – what do you reckon: if offered the job by Gordon Brown, should Vince Cable accept the post of Chancellor? Eyes right for the poll; use the comments thread below to give your reasoning…

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37 Comments

  • No. No propping up discredited New Labour at all.

  • Oh, give us a break. We are an independent party with our own political agenda and philosophy, not the handmaiden of Gordon Brown, John Major, Ted Heath, Jim Callaghan or any of the other canny politicians who may or may not have wooed us during the last forty years.

    Having said that, from Gordon Brown’s past behaviour I wouldn’t put such an approach past him. He tried to seduce Paddy with a job investigating cigarette smuggling, and of course he got Matthew Taylor, Shirley Williams etc. inside his tent for a while. But it is just Gordon showing how clever he is – the man lives for politicking: he and Mandelson deserve each other.

    I wouldn’t even want Ming to become Speaker – it’s just a way of neutralising one of our most effective Members.

  • Elizabeth Patterson 3rd Jan '09 - 7:55pm

    Peter Oborne seems to have gone into predictive overdrive.
    Yesterday it was the Euro; he predicted on the 10th anniversary of the foundation of the currency that it would not see its 20th anniversary; he also said it was good we had stayed out because it gives us the ability to devalue our currency, and hence, our debts. Apparently this is what we always do when boom turns to bust.
    It says something of our government that of the 27 countries only this one has to rely on the techniques of bankruptcy to survive. We seem to have spent above our assets and overvalued our property more than any other EU country.

    Now we have Peter Oborne today speculating about Labour taking over the Libdems. Surely this is a repeat of what they did for the 1997 election. Unsure of whether they would get in, Blair conned Paddy into agreeing something similar, only to drop him when the Labour landslide came. I also remember talk of “subsuming” the LDs into Labour. Peter Mandelson had a big hand in this, and of course lured Roger Liddle over to be his assistant.

    It is Mandelsonian mischief and we should not discuss it seriously, only for a laugh.
    Elizabeth

  • David Allen 3rd Jan '09 - 8:11pm

    Let’s look at this from Brown’s point of view. Ten years ago, we were effectively Labour’s allies. Admittedly, that was basically because the Tories were just so woeful, and so we were disposed to accept the minimialist boast that “things can only get better” under Labour. Nevertheless, that is where we were. Then, under Kennedy, we were genuinely equidistant from two “right-wing” opponents. Now, Clegg has pitched camp firmly on the side of the Tories. Gordon is bound to view these developments with dismay, and rack his brains to think whether he can do anything about them.

    Gordon must therefore be tempted to take a gamble, and make Vince an offer, one which could either split or co-opt the Lib Dems. Gordon will, of course, understand that our first impulse may be to reject his offer with contempt. That, plus fears of an internal backlash, may well prevent him ever making the offer.

    Alternatively, Gordon could do his best to make Vince an offer he can’t (easily) refuse. To do that, he should ignore anything complex, like a real Government of National Unity, or a formal Lib-Lab pact. Gordon’s offer-you-can’t-refuse should be a simple, no-strings offer – Just come and be my Chancellor, Vince. Fill that “vacuum of leadership” you were talking about. Show that you meant what you said when you called for national unity. Sort out bank lending, you’ve got the ideas. No strings, no formal deal between the parties, no collaboration at the next election. Take it or leave it.

    It wouldn’t then, actually, be that easy for Vince to just say “Get stuffed Gordon”, without destroying his own reputation for honest endeavour on behalf of the people of Britain. It would be even worse if Nick said it, as all the commentators would read it (whether rightly or wrongly) as “Clegg stifles Cable”.

    So Vince would have to respond, and a simple “no” would be an error. A better alternative would be for Vince to make very tough demands, and declare that he could not possibly do the job unless given full policy authority – starting, for instance, with an immediate reinstatement of the 17.5% VAT rate. (That £12M hasn’t all been spent yet – it will take a whole year to do that – so, most of the money could still be shifted back into green investment.)

    Gordon would probably then refuse the tough demands, leaving honours even.

    But what if Gordon didn’t refuse the demands, and genuinely ceded authority? Unlikely premise but, if it happens, then Vince must say yes, of course!

  • Chris Keating 3rd Jan '09 - 8:26pm

    What bloolcks.

  • AnonyLib Dem 3rd Jan '09 - 8:55pm

    @ David Allen “Then, under Kennedy, we were genuinely equidistant from two ‘right-wing’ opponents. Now, Clegg has pitched camp firmly on the side of the Tories.”

    With respect to David Allen’s quote above, can I second Chris Keating’s comment.

  • MatGB, if you call the tax policy “revenue neutral”, why does Clegg call it “big permanent tax cuts”?

  • David Allen 3rd Jan '09 - 11:50pm

    Sorry, anonymous was me – David Allen.

  • A simple answer to the main question: Absolutely NOT

  • Grammar Police 4th Jan '09 - 9:30am

    I agree with Mark V – in a hung parliament, let’s let the largest party form a Government and then hold them to account. There will have to be more debate and compromise and less of the ‘Punch and Judy politics’ (that Cameron apparently hates). The media will have to listen, we’ll make much more of a difference to legislation and Government, and when the two authoritarian parties work together we’ll be the clear (liberal) opposition.

    And if we came out and said “the largest Party should form a Government” we’d sidestep all this nonsense about whether we’re closer to Labour or the Tories.

  • Besides which unless I am badly mistaken, any formal deal would have to be put to the membership and/or a special conference, the final decision doesn’t rest with the parliamentary party alone.

  • David Allen 4th Jan '09 - 3:49pm

    MatGB, I’m sure you know perfectly well who is quoting selectively. Yes there is always a vague nod towards the poorest, yes there are some poorly specified tax rises for the rich. But it is specifically not “revenue neutral”, and the rhetoric is “big permanent cuts”.

    Now perhaps you would like to offer Clegg the alibi of dishonesty? Perhaps you think the words “big cuts” are just said to fool the public?

    If that’s what you think, fine. I don’t. I take Clegg at his word. Big cuts, and a big shrinking of the state, is what he is about. The details of the state shrinking will eventually follow, when the time is riper.

  • David Allen 4th Jan '09 - 5:33pm

    OK MatGB, let’s just go for the first of your four results from Nick’s site. Nick said:

    “The responsible way to return even more tax pounds to the poorest is to scale back unnecessary and unjustified government spending. That means trimming total public expenditure.

    Liberal Democrats will cancel £20bn of failing government programmes and allocate the money to our spending priorities as well as tax cuts.”

    Do you really still maintain that this policy is “revenue neutral”?

  • David Evans 4th Jan '09 - 8:00pm

    Now let me see. One of your worst enemies makes an absolute mess of things and you know it’s going to get substantially worse before it levels out. He then offers you the job of being fall guy and taking the blame for him.

    An absolute no brainer.

  • johninpenarth 4th Jan '09 - 8:10pm

    The source makes this seem very unlikely, but if it were to be true, it’s much more likely to be as an attempt to split the LDs (thereby saving scores of Lab seats) whilst letting us share the blame for a mess we had no part in creating.

    The only conceivable way in which vince (or anyone else) could follow such an offer up would be in return for delivery of electoral reform; the same is true of any post-balanced parliament cooperation. But, knowing Labour of old, I’d counsel that we see the ER put into place before helping them out!(
    Oddly, my own view is that the Tories are more likely to deliver ER than Lab).

  • David Allen 5th Jan '09 - 12:59am

    Oh come on. You’re saying Nick is entitled to have a net tax cut policy, but still call it revenue neutral, because he somehow inherited the cuts ideas from his predecessors (nb – not true), and was therefore inextricably saddled with them?

    While you’re into denialism, why not deny climate change and the Holocaust while you’re about it?

  • David,
    it is perfectly possible to be ‘revenue neutral’ and have ‘big, permanent and fair tax cuts’ – it’s called a tax switch.

    I think you are being selective in not distinguishing between our individual proposals and the overall picture of taxation.

  • David Allen 5th Jan '09 - 12:47pm

    Oranjepan, you’re quite right, that was the tax switch policy put forward by Huhne last year, and it was, then, revenue neutral. Things have now changed. Here’s my quote from Clegg again:

    “The responsible way to return even more tax pounds to the poorest is to scale back unnecessary and unjustified government spending. That means trimming total public expenditure.

    Liberal Democrats will cancel £20bn of failing government programmes and allocate the money to our spending priorities as well as tax cuts.”

    So we no longer have a revenue neutral policy.

  • David's candid friend 5th Jan '09 - 1:39pm

    The “denier” comment makes you look pretty silly.

    Revenue neutrality means that the amount of revenue spent on one new thing is balanced by a saving somewhere else. It can also mean revenue income is maintained.

    Revenue neutrality could be maintained by redirecting certain Government project funding and closing tax loopholes and taxing other activities. That is how the policy currently stands.

    Make it happen outlines a desire, if possible, to make further targeted tax cuts if addional “waste” spending can be identified – again, this could be done in a revenue neutral way or not.

  • David Allen 5th Jan '09 - 6:24pm

    Oh dear, where to begin….

    Oranjepan. Yes, of course, revenue and spending are different categories. Clegg mentioned both in the speech I quoted, so, you’ve jumped in with both feet and assumed that I might have muddled them up. Not so. The Clegg speech clearly demonstrates his intention to make net cuts in tax. That is not “revenue neutral”, not the way the words are properly used. (Unless, of course, you think that words can be used to mean anything you want them to mean, like Hitler calling himself a socialist, etc.)

    DCF: ironically, you’ve given a brilliant demonstration of how to make Oranjepan’s category error. “Revenue neutrality means that the amount of revenue spent on one new thing is balanced by a saving somewhere else.” In other words “revenue neutrality is all about spending decisions.” Oh no it isn’t! It is all about revenue decisions. It means that you will raise the same amount of revenue, by different means, as you used to do before you introduced a linked set of tax changes.

    Here is the definition from Hansard:

    “Mr. Pickles: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what his Department’s technical definition of a revenue-neutral tax change is. [204873]

    Jane Kennedy: A tax policy change is revenue-neutral if the net total of the change does not result in a change in forecast Exchequer receipts over the forecast period.”

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmhansrd/cm080514/text/80514w0012.htm

  • David's Candid Friend 5th Jan '09 - 11:27pm

    @ David Allen – I think you’ll see that I referred to two meanings of the phrase “revenue neutral”. It can mean either of the things you’re discussing (as a brief experiment, take a look at the various uses of the phrase in various documents across the internet). Either use of the phrase seems common, and arguable which, if either, is correct and which is wrong.

    To say that a phrase has potentially two slightly different meanings is fairly common to the English language, and not your straw man of “words mean what you want them to mean”.

    Your superior tone, rather like your multiple references to Hitler, the holocaust etc, just serve to make you look ridiculous.

    Ps it’s only ironic if I agree with Oranjepan that you’ve “made the mistake” and then make it myself.

  • David Allen 6th Jan '09 - 1:14pm

    DCF, you are arguing that the home team have won, because “revenue neutral” can mean net tax cuts, according to your view of the flexibility of words.

    Oranjepan, you are arguing that the home team have won, because “revenue neutral” rules out net tax cuts, in your view.

    Would you two like to fight this one out amongst yourselves please?

    Frankly, I prefer the views of Laurence Boyce. Laurence wants the Lib Dems to be a right of centre party that will massively cut taxes, and at least he is straightforward and direct in saying so. All you loyalists out there who are ashamed of our drift to meretricious populism, and want to put a bogus gloss on it so that you can feel happier about yourselves, just make me wonder what I ever thought was so inspiring about our plucky little party.

  • David Allen 6th Jan '09 - 6:37pm

    MatGB,

    “the overall policy to seek efficiency savings, reprioritise spending and use any remaining savings to reduce the overall burden from the bottom up was already there when Nick became leader.”

    Presumably your phrase “reduce the overall burden” means “make net cuts in the total tax revenue obtained by Government”.

    Well, here is what Chris Huhne said, when he introduced what was then a truly revenue-neutral Green Tax switch policy, under Ming in September 2006:

    “Green taxes raise the price of pollution, so we do less of it. Because they change our behaviour, rather than raise revenue, every penny can go back in income tax cuts. This is the green tax switch. Taxing pollution not people. Lifting two million people out of income tax altogether. Cutting 2 pence off the basic rate. Fairer and greener taxes, but NOT HIGHER TAXES OVERALL.” (My capitals).

    So you’ll see that Chris didn’t try to suggest we might actually be CUTTING taxes. He was concerned only to try to dispel the fear that we would be raising them.

    Nick, however, does call for cuts. So the change is down to Nick. Your summary of Ming’s policy, in particular the phrase “reduce the overall burden”, is not accurate.

    http://www.libdems.org.uk/home/summation-in-the-tax-debate-by-chris-huhne-mp-72949;show

    There is surely a massive difference between “not higher taxes overall” (2006) and “big permanent tax cuts” (2009)!

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