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?