The Vince Factor: economic credibility and the Lib Dems

Cross-posted from the International Business Times.

It’s a question that’s been playing on the minds of Lib Dems for some time: how can the party translate the popularity of the party’s deputy leader and shadow chancellor Vince Cable into votes for the Liberal Democrats?

Of Vince’s popularity there is no doubt. Two recent opinion polls (one for PoliticsHome.com, the other by Ipsos Mori) showed him well in front of his Labour and Tory rivals for the Treasury post, Alastair Darling and George Osborne.

And it’s not just members of the public. Just this week, a group of non-Lib Dem business people launched a new website with the self-explanatory title, ‘In Vince Cable We Trust’, with the stated aim of making Vince Cable the next Chancellor of the Exchequer.

To top it all, this week’s Channel 4 Ask the Chancellors debate saw Vince emerge as the almost universally acknowledged victor, lauded by media pundits and voters alike. Indeed, the Tories were so disconcerted by the popular reaction to Vince’s appearance on the programme that they lodged three separate complaints with the producers during the course of the show!

And yet, and yet … Just because Vince is the politician most trusted to be this country’s Chancellor, it does not automatically follow that the Lib Dems are the party most trusted to run the British economy. A recent ComRes poll for BBC2’s The Daily Politics showed the party was most trusted with the national finances by 13% of the public, compared with 33% for Labour and 27% for the Tories.

From an historical perspective, this isn’t such a bad showing for the Lib Dems. And there may be a limit to what the party can do to change voters’ views until we have a chance to be in government. After all, when you haven’t been in power for over 80 years, you can only appeal to people’s trust in what might be, not their experience of what has been. And for the moment, more people are sticking with the ‘has beens’ of Labour and Tories, or ‘Labservatives’ as a subversive Lib Dem campaign launched this week labelled them.

But what the party can do – and what you will be hearing about much more over the next month leading up to the general election – is at least make sure everyone knows what are the Lib Dems’ policies to improve the public finances, our taxes, jobs and business.

After all, it is only the Lib Dems who are promising to cut income tax for everyone by lifting the personal allowance to £10,000, cutting the average working age person’s income tax bill by £700, and meaning that 3.6 million individuals will no longer have to pay any income tax at all.

Equally importantly, the party has spelled out how it will fund this: by closing tax loopholes and cutting reliefs that benefit the wealthiest, as well as placing a 1% levy on the value of properties over £2m. Agree or disagree with the policy, but at least it’s an honest choice: a redistribution of tax that will be of greatest benefit to the poorest in society.

This I do know, and Vince’s popularity proves it: the public respects politicians who are prepared to level with them, who refuse to pretend – a fiction peddled by the ‘Labservatives’ – that everyone’s taxes can be cut and public spending maintained.

If there’s one sure-fire way to earn economic credibility it’s by squaring with the voters. And that’s precisely what the Lib Dems intend to do during the coming general election campaign.

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5 Comments

  • It’s striking, to me, that no-one from the LDV team has seen fit to write anything about Nick Clegg’s interview on the Today programme this morning. The right-wingers have covered it reasonably, generally declaring it a drubbing for Clegg at the hands of Naughtie. It feeds into some of the area this post covers because there’s a question i feel is in the offing about the way that Clegg handles Vince Cable and deploys him in this election.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8606000/8606630.stm
    http://blogs.wsj.com/iainmartin/2010/04/07/vintage-naughtie-beats-up-nick-clegg-live-on-air/
    http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/5894653/clegg-blows-a-golden-opportunity.thtml

    In short, Clegg has to be the dominant figure because otherwise would result in the media tearing him apart as being outshone by his deputy; Rory Bremner was making (mildly funny) jokes about Clegg looking like Cable’s researcher on the Today programme this morning too, and they say comedy is 80% recognition. I think there’s the potential for hostile sections of the media to put that spin on the Clegg/Cable relationship if we’re not careful. God knows it was those (on the right) who built up Cable’s performance as acting leader who’re now getting angry with the media’s soft spot for ‘saint Vince’, but all the same we should be treading with a degree more caution than i feel we are.

    It’s also worth noting that Clegg made the absurd decision to use the government’s figures on cuts and estimated ‘efficiency savings’ to finance his claim of being able to halve the structural deficit. The same figures Vince slammed George Osborne for using whilst criticising during the chancellors’ debate. Seriously? Clegg was lucky Naughtie didn’t have the wits about him to notice. He was also spluttering on Trident and the Euro; on the latter that might have been unavoidable, on Trident it definitely wasn’t.

    Final part of rant: yesterday’s campaign launch was uninspiring. Deep in the bowels of Cowley street, surrounded by what were clearly party workers, but in such a way that he didn’t look in one direction but kept spinning around to address them. Cameron was surrounded by people but he didn’t do the same. Clegg needs lessons in that kind of thing; it looked stupid.

  • Vince Cable is the only politico who says it like it is!

    If the LD ever looked at elections as one they could win-rather than be the ‘third’ party, I am sure the result would be very different!

    The powers that be should put Vince in as party leader & I do feel that the population would seriously consider voting LD.

    I will vote for Duncan Hames, our local LD candidate, as he is another ‘tells it like it is’ person! He is sound on local issues, but does not ignore national issues. Follow his example- lets have a win!

    Come on guys- make it a win rather than a third place! It would be so refreshing!

  • Dane,

    Haven’t we covered this before…. Joining the Euro isn’t party policy and when it was it was to be put to a referendum, the pound is more than safe under Vince Cable’s stewardship!

    Hope this is cleared up again. Oh, I agree with you that the Euro would be disastrous, the recession really drilled that home.

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