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

by Stephen Tall on October 18, 2014

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 Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.