Saturday, April 03, 2010

Will Vince Cable be the next Chancellor?

IN an election where the state of the economy is likely to be more central than ever to the outcome, it is not surprising that the identity of the next Chancellor is almost as burning an issue as that of the next Prime Minister.

From being seen at one time as a weak link in Labour’s armoury – not least by Gordon Brown himself who wanted to replace him with Ed Balls – Alastair Darling has unexpectedly emerged as one of the government’s few genuine assets.

Okay, so his third Budget ten days ago contained no new ideas and few positive reasons to vote Labour on May 6 save that of ‘better the devil you know.’

But that was not the point. Somehow, Mr Darling seems to have established himself in the public’s mind as that rare thing in 21st Century Britain – a politician who tells it like it is.

So the TV confrontation this week between Mr Darling and his opposition shadows Vince Cable and George Osborne was one of the more eagerly awaited events of the seemingly interminable pre-election countdown.

It was given added spice by the fact that Mr Osborne’s political trajectory has been almost the diametric opposite of Mr Darling’s over the past two and a half years.

Back in the autumn of 2007, he was the Tory hero whose bold promise to raise inheritance tax thresholds was seen as largely responsible for putting the frighteners on Mr Brown’s election plans.

But just as that IT pledge has become something of a millstone around the Tories’ necks in these more straitened times, so Mr Osborne has become increasingly perceived as their ‘weakest link.’

It was very clear from the Tory Shadow Chancellor’s performance in Monday night’s debate that he had been reading the findings of Labour’s focus groups which called him “shrill, immature and lightweight.”

But in his efforts to appear statesmanlike, he rather over-compensated, leading one pundit to describe he and Mr Darling as “the bland leading the bland.”

Instead, it was Mr Cable who earned the lion’s share of the audience applause on the night, for instance over his refusal to indulge in impossible promises on NHS spending.

So which one of them, if any, will be Chancellor? It’s not necessarily as straightforward a question as it may seem.

Sure, if Labour wins outright, Mr Darling will stay on. Mr Brown has already been forced to say as much, putting his old ally Mr Balls’ ambitions on hold once more.

But in the event of a Tory victory, or a hung Parliament, the situation becomes much less clear cut.

There have long been rumours in Tory circles that Mr Osborne won’t go to 11 Downing Street even if they win outright.

The talk is that David Cameron could give the job of sorting out the economic mess either to old-hand Ken Clarke, or to right-wing axe-man Philip Hammond.

Most intriguing is the fate of Mr Cable. Clearly he will not be Chancellor in a Lib Dem government – but could he hold the role in a Labour or Tory-led coalition?

The short answer to that is yes. For all Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg’s refusal to play the ‘kingmaker,’ securing the Treasury for Mr Cable is likely to be central to any post-election deal in a hung Parliament.

The opinion polls continue to point to this as the likeliest election outcome, with the Tory lead still insufficient to give them an outright majority.

The race for Number 10 clearly lies between Mr Cameron and Mr Brown. But in the race for Number 11, it is the Liberal Democrat contender who is in pole position.

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Anonymous said...

You're taking the piss. Not a hope in hell.

Charlie the Chump said...


Stephen Rouse said...

I don't see why not. An amazing number of people I talk to are now actively hoping for a hung parliament - maybe people in marginals should trade votes to ensure it happens.
I'm starting to suspect Dave feels the same way. A slight overall majority will leave him as the prisoner of the right, who are already lining up to give him a good kicking.
On the other hand - a hung parliament, a coalition Government able to talk of "national interest", a competent and popular Chancellor - what's for Dave not to like?

Charles said...

The short answer is no.

Not because of any particular merits or otherwise of the candidates, but simply because economic reform is the biggest issue facing the next government - and no way will one of the major parties trade this away.

If the Tories had to form a coalition with the LibDems (and I hope they get a small but workable majority), then I suspect Clegg could get the Home Office and someone else Defence. Not an easy hand to play well.

Anonymous said...

Even if there was a hung parliament, Cable would not be invited to become Chancellor - nor would he want it. He would kick up a stink about it (or his supporters will do it for him) and continue to enjoy his luxorious seat on the fence.

Steve Tierney said...

I can't see it. No Conservative wants Cable as chancellor since we all believe he's overrated and full of it. I can't imagine Labour supporters have much love for him either.

Stu said...

Aaah yes St Vince, the man who predicted the current problems. Except no one can find any record of this miracle. The man is a bullshitting light weight and it's time he was exposed as such. As for him being chancellor I almost couldn't write this I was laughing so much.

AD627 said...

No. He's massively over-rated and neither the Labour Party nor the Conservatives would entrust Number 11 to the LibDems, even in a benign economic environment. In the current circumstances, there would be no point in being in government without direct control over the Treasury.

Nash said...

Vince Cable is too left wing for "Old" or "NU" Labour. Vince should probably join the Greens who apart from the SWP are the only parties with compatible philosophies.

There probably should be a realignment of parties. UKIP could pick up the right wing Tories, the more moderate Liberals and moderate Conservatives could form a new Tory Party (as they did before); the SDP elements of the Liberals should join the "Nu-Labour" types and the "Old Labour" + Greens + SWP + Vince Cable could form a new Left Wing party.

Under AV we could then express our preferences rationally.

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Anonymous said...

The hung parliament is no bad option. I think the UK system has to "grow up" a bit and give people the government they are voting for, i.e a coalition of all three parties. If the UK polls are true, then it shows that the people want members of all three parties in government, and that is no bad thing. It's a shame no-one trusts Gordon. I still think he is the man for the job if there were to be a single victor on Thursday. Is he not still paying the price for Blair's dishonesty. Ironically, no-one did more to create cynicism among the populace about politicians and politics than Blair, who at least paid lip service to improving it, so he deserves all the lambasting in the press that he gets (and I love the way they are using pictures of him looking crazy). I think England is shooting itself in the foot by voting Tory. We have been down that path before and we how wins and who loses. But I do think a cosy Lib-Lab alliance would be the best option for the next four or five years. Economic stability in a crisis and fresh ideas for people to think about.

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