Labour’s Liam Byrne confesses all to David Laws: “I am afraid to tell you there is no money left”

by Stephen Tall on May 17, 2010

In the first Treasury press conference this morning of the coalition government, Lib Dem chief secretary to the treasury David Laws revealed he’d received a letter from his Labour predecessor, Liam Byrne:

“When I arrived at my desk on the very first day as Chief Secretary, I found a letter from the previous chief secretary to give me some advice, I assumed, on how I conduct myself over the months ahead.

“Unfortunately, when I opened it, it was a one-sentence letter which simply said ’Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left’, which was honest but slightly less helpful advice than I had been expecting.”

Confirmation, it seems, from the horse’s mouth of the age-old adage that all Labour governments eventually run out of money.

It’s hard to know what’s more bizarre:

    – that Liam Byrne thought the crippling public debt left by Labour was a subject worth joking about;
    – that Liam Byrne decided to make the remark in writing to one of his political opponents;
    – that Liam Byrne, while pondering a bid for the Labour leadership, thought it clever to confirm in writing one of Labour’s greatest electoral weaknesses – that they can’t be trusted to run the economy without running out of money; or
    – that Liam Byrne thinks he can now casually dismiss his startling gaffe as a “joke”.

The Telegraph reports Liam Byrne responding:

My letter was a joke, from one Chief Secretary to another. I do hope David Laws’ sense of humour wasn’t another casualty of the coalition deal.”

I think he’ll have to do a bit better than that.

But perhaps Liam Byrne’s lapse is the first casualty of no longer having a civil servant on hand to bring him his morning cappuccino?