My recommended reading for today August 15, 2014

by Stephen Tall on August 15, 2014

Here’s some of the articles that have caught my attention in the past couple of days…

Why Lib Dems shouldn’t keep schtum about tuition fees

by Stephen Tall on August 14, 2014

tuition fees vote“University tuition fee rise has not deterred poorer students from applying”. That was the headline in The Guardian this week reporting new analysis by the Independent Commission on Fees chaired by Will Hutton:

The raising of tuition fees to £9,000 has not put off students from disadvantaged backgrounds from applying to university – although the gap in applications between those from wealthy and poor backgrounds remains wide, according to new analysis. …

The commission found that university application rates for 18-year-olds in England have continued to recover from their post-rise lows, with application rates for 2014 entry – including students who will receive their A-level results on Thursday – almost two percentage points higher than in 2010.

While students who are not eligible for free school meals – available for pupils from households earning less than £16,000 – remain more than twice as likely to go to university, the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students has narrowed from 30.5% in 2010 to 29.8% in 2013.

“Disadvantaged young people are applying to and entering higher education at higher rates than ever before, which is excellent news,” said Professor Les Ebdon, director of the Office of Fair Access to Higher Education watchdog.

The scare-mongering of the tuition fees critics has — thankfully — not proven to be self-prophesying: applications to universities are up, applications from students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are up even more.

There remain concerns, particularly about the falls in applications from mature and part-time students, and those need to be addressed. But even if you don’t regard the policy as a success (to be clear: I do) it’s no longer possible to claim it as the disastrous failure its fiercest opponents expected (and seemed sometimes to want it to be).

Whenever I mention fees here commenters below-the-line argue we should just shut up about it, that the mere mention of the policy re-ignites public animosity at many of our MPs’ infamous breaking of their pledge. I disagree. The public will remember fees and our U-turn for a long time: that’s unavoidable. I think the outrage is over-done — both Labour and Conservatives have about-faced on policies before even when they’ve had healthy majorities without attracting the same opprobrium – but it is what it is. We have to live with it.

What I don’t think that means is that the policy should parade around for the rest of time with a big ‘kick me’ sign on its back because of it. Yes, those who signed the pledge to vote against fee increases screwed up. (By the by, I’ve written this week that my long-held pro-fees was what stopped me from standing for Parliament for the party.)

But the fees policy as crafted by Vince Cable and David Willetts is the very nature of Coalition politics: a negotiated agreement between two parties which was much-improved by the Lib Dem presence in government, is an improvement on the Labour system it replaced, and which is, by and large, working well in reality. We shouldn’t keep schtum about that: we should tell people.

* 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.

An idea from Matthew Parris that will unite political activists everywhere

by Stephen Tall on August 14, 2014

head over heels in the letterboxThe Lib-Con Coalition may have run out-of-steam, but Conservative MP-turned-columnist Matthew Parris has identified a policy around which the two parties could happily unite. Indeed, his proposal might even form the basis for a Rainbow Coalition of all the parties.

What’s prompted the idea is that Matthew’s been out delivering leaflets recently. And it has unleashed within him his ‘inner fascist’:

I want order. I want consistency. I want standards. And I want eye-watering penalties for property owners who try their fellow Britons’ patience and waste our time by making their addresses impossible to find. I am driven to distraction by the merry chaos of British residential and commercial addresses, and if I crick my back one more time stooping to try to force a flimsy paper envelope through a vicious ankle-level steel trap of a letterbox, I shall resign as a libertarian and howl for regulation.

So here’s his solution:

‘Mediating’ grassroots candidate-selection meetings I often ask would-be candidates: if you were lucky in the Commons ballot and won the chance to sponsor a Private Member’s Bill, what would it be? After a lifetime of delivering and canvassing, I know what mine would be. I can hear the Commons Clerk reading it out now …

‘A Bill to establish a rational system of street numbering for domestic and commercial addresses; and for the application of compulsory common standards for the elevation, internal dimensions, resistance of spring-loaded flaps and density of draft-excluders, of all letter boxes designed for general use; for greater clarity in the siting of such letter boxes; for ease of access to and between such letter boxes; and for associated purposes.’

Make that Item #1 in the next Programme for Government.

* 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.

photo by:

Lib Dems pledge more tax cuts: after personal allowance raised to £12.5k will also increase National Insurance threshold

by Stephen Tall on August 14, 2014

Danny Alexander by Paul WalterToday’s big announcement from the Lib Dems has been the “plan to cut your tax bill further”. Here’s how The Guardian reports it:

The Liberal Democrats are to burnish their credentials as the tax-cutting party for the low paid by floating the possibility of cutting national insurance contributions for anyone earning below £12,500 a year.

In a challenge to David Cameron, who is facing pressure from Tory MPs to pledge bold tax cuts as the economy grows, the Lib Dems will promise in their general election manifesto to raise the level at which workers start to pay national insurance contributions.

Employees currently start paying national insurance on earnings above £153 a week, or £7,956 a year, at a rate of 12%. The Lib Dems say they hope to raise this to £12,500 by the end of the next parliament – bringing employee national insurance contributions into line with income tax.

The Lib Dems, who will beat the goal set out in their 2010 manifesto to raise the personal income tax allowance to £10,000 in this parliament, have already indicated that they will pledge to raise it to £12,500 by 2020. This means that no income tax would be paid on earnings below this level.

But Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury, has gone a step further and said that the Lib Dems will work towards ensuring that no employee national insurance contributions are paid below this level. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that aligning the income tax allowance with employee national insurance contributions would lead to tax cuts for 1.2m employees.

Alexander said: “Our tax system must be fair and help to make being in work pay. That’s why cutting income tax for working people, particularly those on low and middle incomes, is a top Liberal Democrat priority. It was on the front page of the 2010 Liberal Democrat manifesto and we have fought to keep it on the agenda at every budget. By April next year we will have delivered a tax cut to over 26 million people worth £800 a year to a typical basic-rate taxpayer and taken over 3 million out of tax altogether.

“Now we want to go even further and lift the amount of money people can earn before paying income tax to £12,500. This will take hundreds of thousands more low earners out of tax altogether and give millions of working people a further tax cut of £400. This move will also give a tax cut to over 6 million pensioners. When we’ve reached £12,500 we will seek to raise the level that people start paying employee national insurance.

“These manifesto commitments will mean nothing less than a generational shift to a fairer tax system that rewards work and helps working people. That’s the way to build a stronger economy and a fairer society and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to get on in life.”

Three quick points:

1) It’s good to hear the party talk about National Insurance, a direct tax paid by many low-paid workers (as I suggested in February 2013: Focus next on National Insurance Contributions (NICs) – NOT the income tax threshold). Raising the threshold when it’s payable should be the priority if we’re serious about helping the lowest-paid workers.

2) However, calling for tax-cuts for the low-paid is the easy bit: working out how to fund them is quite another. As Adam Corlett noted here in January, the costs of raising the personal allowance are huge. The idea we could then also take low-paid workers out of NI is utterly unrealistic. Politics is about choosing and the party has chosen a tax-cut which won’t help the lowest paid.

3) And even if we could magic the money from somewhere to pay for both tax cuts within one parliament it will almost certainly be needed for public spending. Austerity isn’t going away: only a little more than half the cuts needed to eliminate the deficit have so far been identified. As I pointed out here, it’s projected there will be “an estimated 28 per cent cut in per capita day-to-day spending on public services between 2010-11 and 2018-19″. Better to avoid savage cuts to key services than to keep on cutting taxes regardless.

* 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.

Lib Dem donations in 2014, 2nd Quarter: £1.23m raised (but that’s less than Ukip)

by Stephen Tall on August 13, 2014

Today saw the publication by the Electoral Commission, the independent party funding watchdog, of the donations received by the UK’s political parties in the second quarter of 2014 (1 April to 30 June). Here are the figures:

lib dems donations - Q2 2014

And here’s how the BBC reported it:

UKIP have reported more in political donations than the Lib Dems in a quarter for the first time, according to the Electoral Commission. UKIP reported donations of £1.4m from April to June this year – £170,000 more than reported by the Lib Dems. … The Conservatives reported £7.2m of donations for the second quarter of the year, while Labour reported £3.8m. The period coincided with May’s European elections, in which UKIP got the biggest share of the UK vote, and the party led by Nigel Farage is now aiming to get its first MPs elected at next year’s general election. More than a million pounds declared by UKIP came from a single donor, the Yorkshire businessman Paul Sykes. The Lib Dems said it demonstrated that UKIP was a one-man party – “one man politically and one man financially”. The Lib Dems said their £1.2m in donations came from more individual donors than ever before.

While it’s not great to see Ukip best the party on donations received, it’s not all that surprising it should happen at the time of the European elections. It’s certainly encouraging to hear the Lib Dems report its donations “came from more individual donors than ever before” – as was clear from the latest set of accounts, the party is reliant on donations for much of its core activity.

* 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.

Lib Dem Chief Whip on David Ward: “I do not intend to take further action in relation to the tweet”

by Stephen Tall on August 13, 2014

David WardThree weeks ago, Lib Dem MP for Bradford East David Ward tweeted: “The big question is – if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? – probably yes”. The following day he issued an apology, saying:

I utterly condemn the violence on both sides in Israel and Gaza. I condemn the actions of Hamas, and my comments were not in support of firing rockets into Israel. If they gave the opposite impression, I apologise.

That wasn’t quite the end of the matter, though. The Lib Dem disciplinary process required a meeting between the party’s Chief Whip, Don Foster, and David. That’s now taken place, and it’s been decided there will be no further action. The Yorkshire Post has published the statements issued by both:

In a statement released on Wednesday Mr Foster said: “In light of that apology, the assurance by David Ward that he would do all he could to ensure comments he made would be in a form that would be difficult to misinterpret, and that he will continue – in relation to the Israeli/Palestinian situation – to condemn violence on both sides and support moves for a cease fire, I do not intend to take further action in relation to the tweet.

“I am conscious that this decision will not satisfy some people. To them I would say, at a time of considerable international unease in the Middle East, comments have been made by politicians from all parties that have been unwelcome by some or other section of society.

“The question I have had to answer is not, did the comments by David Ward cause offence to some people (within the party or outside), but did they bring the party into disrepute?

David accepts that his tweet did cause offence to some people. He recognises that the use of Twitter as a form of communication can lead to misinterpretation and accepts the need for greater care in the future. However, I do not believe it was in any way anti-Semitic or motivated by anti-Semitic intentions and I do not believe his tweet brought the party into disrepute.”

Mr Ward told The Yorkshire Post he is happy to draw a line under the matter.

“This has been looked at very closely by the chief whip, and I’m delighted he has come to this conclusion,” Mr Ward said.

“The situation in Gaza is very difficult, it is a very controversial situation, I know everyone has a view on it but I’m happy that the chief whip has taken this decision, particularly in light of the anti-Semitic slurs which were made against me.

“I appreciate what is happening in Gaza is a controversial subject, and that people are generally either on one side or another and comments deemed to be critical by one side are regarded as unacceptable by the other.

“It is difficult to get into those arguments but the chief whip has taken all this into account and now I would like to draw a line under this.”

At the time I said I thought David Ward should immediately apologise or have the whip withdrawn. He did apologise so Don Foster’s decision seems reasonable. But David’s track record of making needlessly inflammatory statements generating all heat and no light is stacking up. Hopefully there won’t be a next time.

* 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.

On Boris standing as an MP, and why being pro-tuition fees meant I didn’t

by Stephen Tall on August 13, 2014

con home cartoonHere’s my latest The Other Side column for ConservativeHome, published here on Tuesday. I’m talking Boris and what motivates folk to want to stand for Parliament – or in my case, why I didn’t. My thanks as ever to the site’s editors, Paul Goodman and Mark Wallace, for giving a Lib Dem space to provoke – constructively, I hope.

Boris Johnson’s dance of the seven veils is over: he will, to no-one’s surprise, stand for an as yet unnamed seat at the next election. The titillation has pre-occupied Westminster journalists for months, as each seat hoves into view – Croydon South, Reigate, North West Hampshire, Richmond, Louth and Horncastle – only to be discarded by London’s mayor in turn. But, at last, he stands before us, revealed. It is a teasing performance which has seduced the watching media. Not least because we know exactly whose head Boris would like to see delivered on a platter as reward for his dance: that of the current occupant of Number 10.

Boris makes little secret of his leadership ambitions (“If the ball came loose from the back of a scrum…”) but the paradox is clear. If the Conservatives do well at the next election, Cameron will stay, at least to see through the European in/out referendum, maybe then handing over to George Osborne (who will, by then, have been both Chancellor and Foreign Secretary). If the Conservatives under-perform (but not too badly) and Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister, then Cameron will go, but his party will most likely opt for a safe (if dull) pair of hands, a Theresa May or even a Philip Hammond.

It’s only if the Conservatives absolutely tank in May – an outright Labour win which leaves the Tories licking their wounds – that Boris’s obvious star quality will come into its own. The doubts about his credibility as a potential Prime Minister will recede as his Heineken ability to reach those parts of the electorate no other politician can becomes all important. Boris’s best chance of success, then, depends upon his party’s imminent failure.

And then what? Suppose Boris does confound expectations (just as he did to become a two-term Tory Mayor of Labour-leaning London) and reach the summit of his ambitions: what does he actually want to do? His time as Mayor has given us few clues. Most of the popular successes with which he’s most closely associated – ‘Boris bikes’, Crossrail, the Olympics – he inherited. His famous Margaret Thatcher lecture last year – the one where he advocated vigorous shaking of cereal packets to propel cornflakes to the top – re-inforced his reputation for colourful metaphors and his zeal for red in tooth and claw capitalism.

But as for actual policies… well, those aren’t really for politicians like Boris: they’re too small, humdrum. What you get from Boris is freewheeling showmanship, the P.T. Barnum of British politics. Which means the role of Leader of the Opposition would fit him to a tee. Power without responsibility would allow him to rail against Prime Minister Miliband, who would soon run into trouble with his own party as the continuing austerity cuts bite harder.

(This is, by the way, why Miliband is, from his own point of view, quite right to reject demands for the EU referendum: imagine having to lead the fight against the Boris-led Tories, the right-wing media and Ukip? Regardless of who you think would win, this slug-fest would dominate Miliband’s first two-and-a-half years as PM and probably lose him the subsequent election – most voters who really care about a referendum are unlikely to vote Labour anyway.)

So yes, I can see Boris as a joke-cracking, trouble-making, mickey-taking leader of the Conservatives, harrying Labour in government, parrying demands for him to set out his alternative. But as Prime Minister? Standing up to Putin, finessing peace in the Middle East, or cajoling reform from our European neighbours? Sorry, but I just can’t see it. As YouGov’s Peter Kellner advises: “He needs to get serious: to show that he has the gravitas and judgement to steer Britain through the troubled waters that the country is likely to face for some years to come.” But, of course, by getting serious Boris will no longer be Boris. He cannot be both court jester and monarch: he will have to choose, and soon. David Cameron, when once asked why he wanted to be Prime Minister, replied “because I think I’ll be good at it”. Boris needs to find a better reason than “because I think I’ll be better than him at it”.


To be clear, I’m not knocking Boris’s decision. To choose to seek election to Parliament, and to do so in the genuine belief that you have something positive to contribute, is a Good Thing. (And a Thing too readily forgotten by we armchair pontificators.)

Once upon a time, I thought about doing so myself. Indeed, in 2003 as a twice-elected Lib Dem councillor in Oxford, I started filling in my application form to become a prospective parliamentary candidate. I got most of the way through it, too, but stumbled over the following question: ‘Which elements of Liberal Democrat Policy would you like to see changed and why?’ By the time I’d started on my second side of A4 I’d come to the conclusion maybe this lark wasn’t for me.

Not that blind obedience to the party line is expected. Indeed, in the Lib Dems such conformity would (rightly) be regarded with suspicion. I’ve long reckoned that agreeing with 60-70% of your party’s policies is probably as good as you can hope for, so disagreeing with a substantial minority is par for the course.

But there was one Lib Dem policy which I thought utterly barking: our campaign to abolish tuition fees. “It is a policy that is seriously flawed, and risks condemning British universities and students to an increasingly mediocre future,” I wrote in January 2005. There was, I thought, no way I could press my claims on the electorate as a putative Lib Dem MP when I didn’t believe in one of the key planks of the party’s manifesto. So I decided to depart the stage before I’d had the chance even to play the part of understudy.

I could add in here a waspish comment about those Lib Dem MPs who also thought the party’s tuition fees pledge to be bonkers but kept schtum and felt few qualms about ditching it after the election. But, in all honesty, my overwhelming sense is of relief at a bullet dodged. If there’s one thing worse than being an MP it’s being a parliamentary candidate, expected to do the same amount of work but without the salary, staff, resources or time to back it up.

I stand in not a little awe of those who make the sacrifices needed. Sure, for some, like Boris, the campaign is simply a stepping stone towards their destinied glory. But, for most, it’s a genuine wish to serve. And if you think that’s a load of pious bullshit, you know what you can do? Put your deposit where your mouth is, get out of that comfy armchair, and stand for election.

ICM poll: Labour leads Tories by 7%, Lib Dems in third place on 12%

by Stephen Tall on August 12, 2014

What a difference a month makes. In July, the Guardian’s ICM poll – the ‘gold standard’ – showed a narrow 1% Tory lead over Labour. Fast forward to August and Labour enjoys a solid 7% lead over the Tories, by 38% to 31%. The Lib Dems are in third place, unchanged on 12%, with Ukip trailing on 10%.

icm poll - aug 2014

Three brief points:

1) Though I have high regard for ICM, that they report only once a month means it’s hard to know if this month’s score reflects a genuine increase in support for Labour at the Tories’ expense (not something other polls are showing) or is just random noise.

2) Lib Dems will be relieved to see the party’s ratings stable. I realise they’re stable at a rate half that we won at the last general election. But given it’s a month since the last poll showed us in double digits, at least the pollster with the best track record has us steady at c.12%: that’s something.

3) ICM shows there’s a pretty minimal ‘Boris effect’ among the public, a modest 3% up-tick in support, principally drawn from Ukip. In any case, I tend towards Antony Wells’ view of such hypothetical polling:

… I wouldn’t take “How would you vote with X as leader” questions too seriously anyway. People are rubbish at answering hypothetical questions, and here we’re expecting them to say how they’d vote with X as leader without knowing what changes X would make, what priorities and policies they’d adopt or anything else about what an X leadership would look like. They can be useful straws in the wind, but really, they are no more than that.

* 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.

Ryan Coetzee switches from Clegg’s Director of Strategy to Lib Dems’ General Election Director of Strategy

by Stephen Tall on August 12, 2014

Ryan+CoetzeeIt’s almost two years since Ryan Coetzee was appointed as Nick Clegg’s director of strategy, replacing Richard Reeves. His experience as a liberal politician and campaigner with South Africa’s Democratic Alliance meant that he was welcomed, even by many of those often sceptical of advisers and their worth.

One of his first actions was to start identifying the Lib Dem ‘market’, those voters who would consider voting for the party. His research, backed up by the party’s first major private polling operation about which I wrote here, has informed much of the national party’s campaigning since, including its “Stronger society, fairer economy” strapline.

However, his publicly funded special adviser role had started to attract some controversy. Labour, for instance, demanded an inquiry into his role (presumably forgetting/ignoring the fact that Alistair Campbell once served as the Government’s director of communications).

At the start of this month, therefore, Ryan switched roles, from the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office to Lib Dem HQ in Great George Street as the party’s General Election Director of Strategy. Here’s how the role was advertised:

To develop and lead the delivery of a strategy that will allow the Liberal Democrats to maximise their success in the 2015 General Election and to come out of the election as a party of government for a historic second time.

Key Responsibilities:
1. To advise and work with the Leader of the Liberal Democrats to determine political strategy.
2. To lead the realisation of the agreed political strategy by providing active and inspirational leadership at every level of the party.

However, as Ryan enters Lib Dem HQ, one long-term staffer exits: as PR Week reported last month, after eight years working for Nick Clegg and the party, Lib Dem director of political comms Tim Snowball has replaced Jo Foster (a former deputy chief of staff to Nick) as head of PHA Media’s political strategy:

Snowball joined Clegg’s parliamentary office in 2006, managing his leadership bid and then heading the leader’s office in opposition. He led his general election tour, was involved in the coalition negotiations and transferred into the new Deputy Prime Minister’s office for the first year of the current Government.

In 2011 he became the first Liberal Democrat staffer in the Government to make a move back to party headquarters, where he was chief of staff and political secretary to the Deputy Prime Minister, and more recently director of political comms.

* 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.

Vince to quit? The party’s “senior sources” have been out and about stirring again…

by Stephen Tall on August 10, 2014

It’s not even six months since my co-editor Caron Lindsay urged fellow Lib Dems to make nice and drop the internal briefing against colleagues. This followed a spate of whisperings against Vince Cable and Tim Farron among others. The voices off against Vince even prompted Nick to start an internal inquiry, though, as Jonathan Calder observed here, nothing more was heard of it.

Today, though, the Mail on Sunday reports:

Allies of Vince Cable reacted furiously last night over a Liberal Democrat ‘whispering campaign’ suggesting that he is on the brink of walking out of the Coalition. The Mail on Sunday has been told by two well-placed sources within the party that the 71-year-old Business Secretary is considering leaving the Cabinet immediately after the party’s autumn conference.

One source close to leader Nick Clegg insisted: ‘He wants to step aside from the grind of office and take up an Election campaigning role in which he would woo back disaffected Lib Dems. He would be replaced either by [Chief Secretary to the Treasury] Danny Alexander or [Scottish Secretary] Alistair Carmichael with [Employment Minister] Jo Swinson taking the remaining open Cabinet slot.’ The other source said: ‘He has just had enough. The fight has gone out of him.’

However, last night Mr Cable denounced the claims as ‘nonsense’ and insisted he would stick with the Coalition right up to next year’s General Election. His spokeswoman said: ‘Vince has already been reselected to fight his Twickenham seat in May 2015 and he fully intends to serve out his term in Government as Business Secretary.’

However, Mr Clegg’s inner circle believe Mr Cable will step aside when the Deputy PM reshuffles his team in October – and might even drop plans to contest his seat. It has been billed as ‘doing a Hague’, after William Hague’s surprise move in the Tory reshuffle last month from Foreign Secretary to the lower-profile role of Commons Leader.
Last night a former Lib Dem MP added to the reports by claiming even ‘friends’ of Mr Cable were suggesting he would stand down before the Election. The ex MP said: ‘The rumour that Vince may go is definitely circulating.’ …

But Mr Cable’s allies angrily blamed the reports on a ‘whispering campaign’ designed to undermine the Business Secretary. One said: ‘There has been no mention of Vince packing it in. Whoever’s putting this around is simply out to make mischief.’ Another said: ‘He’s already been reselected to fight Twickenham and there’s no suggestion at all that he won’t.’ Mr Clegg’s office also denied any suggestion that Mr Cable would quit.

What the truth is, I’ve no idea. Certainly earlier this parliament there was internal speculation that Vince would retire from the Commons at the 2015 election, prompting a flurry of interest in the Twickenham seat among potential successors. However his re-selection seemed to have put an end to that.

I hope so. Quite apart from my admiration for Vince, Twickenham would be a much harder seat for the Lib Dems to defend without him. And as I’ve said many times there is absolutely no doubt in my mind he should revive his role as the party’s economic spokesman next May: he is by a long, long way the most persuasive and convincing advocate the party has of the economic policies it’s pursued in Coalition.

Either way, the public speculation of “senior sources” helps no-one. If they don’t want to take a holiday in August I’m sure there would be many local parties eager to give then something more useful to do with their excess energy than mouth off to journalists.

* 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.

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