2nd Year of Praise for Lib Dem Ministers: Strengths of Lib Dem Ministers in 2nd year of being in Government

Another year of following the papers looking for positive news stories about the Lib Dem ministers has produced more praise for Lib Dem ministers. So Vince Cable, Chris Huhne, Steve Webb and Danny Alexander get praise for their efforts.

Vince Cable

The Guardian state that few politicians could manage contrition with Cable’s conviction as ‘he speaks human so well’.

The Guardian believed he speaks with authority on the economy and banking reform concluding ‘his prophet status has been restored’.

The Daily Telegraph believes that any serious and objective consideration of Mr Cable’s record in office shows that he has been a formidable Cabinet minister and an important ally of enterprise. They credit him for the recent small surge of inward investment into Britain and praise him for not grabbing all the credit. They see him as the moral centre of gravity for the Coalition and of British public life.

The Sun praise him for getting results in his job as Minister.

The Independent praise him for standing up to the Prime Minister over immigration, tax-cutting Tories, casino bankers, universities and Rupert Murdoch.

Chris Huhne

The Independent believe that Mr Huhne was regarded as an effective minister because of his “nerves of steel”, ability to “compartmentalise” and carry on as normal when the threat of prosecution hung over him.

The Independent highlighted that he earned useful headlines for a party whose presence in the Tory-led government is often forgotten.

The Guardian states that Huhne won plaudits for his performances abroad and that he had an indefinable big beast quality that put him on a par with Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, making him a voice on economics and Europe inside the cabinet to which people listened, even if they disagreed (see here).

The Guardian praised Huhne for being a strong minister who ran his department well, stood bravely for the green agenda, and fought his corner effectively. They also believe that he played an important role in the coalition cabinet as the voice of the more social democratic wing of the Lib Dem team.

The Observer said that he brought a passion for the green agenda combined with the intellect and the clout to increase the influence of a department often previously dismissed as a bit of a Whitehall lightweight.

The Independent admired Huhne for his work as Climate Change Secretary, but even more so as a staunch Cabinet defender of the ‘civilised values’

Even ConservativeHome praised Huhne for being one of the government’s most effective ministers

Steve Webb

The London Evening Standard praised Webb for being one of the best pensions minister we have had in a generation

Danny Alexander

The Daily Telegraph believe Alexander has become the Tories’ favourite Liberals, saying he has proved himself in combat.

The Guardian praised him for his ‘delicate negotiations’ with the trade unions over pension reform, saying ‘there is steel there, perhaps born of unselfconsciousness’.

Worrying signs Lib Dem Ministers thinking is being corrupted – They should not forget their roots

It has taken a while for George Osborne’s autumn statement to be been felt throughout the party and the potential consequences. We have always campaigned on being an independent party and we have fought to show we are independent from the Tories only to blow this out of the water by effectively saying that we have the same fiscal policy as the Tories. The worrying this about this is not that there may be no alternative when it comes to managing the country’s finances, it is that we are starting to look and sound similar to the Tories. It is starting to look like they are getting dangerously close to one another and forgetting where they came from.

Stephen Tall summed up the questions following Osborne’s autumn statement and the subsequent Danny Alexander interview as this:

When Danny Alexander was asked on Newsnight on Tuesday if the Liberal Democrats would go into the next election promising nearly £30bn more austerity, he replied: “I’m afraid so.” So where does this leave the party? Have we now signed-up by default to fighting the next election on a platform of more cuts until 2017? If so, does this in effect commit the Coalition parties to fighting on a united programme?

There is something deeply concerning for the Lib Dems if we are to fight the next election on a united front in relation to the economy with the Tories. An independent party without an independent policy on the economy when it will be the most important issue? How has it come about that that has even been suggested? Many in the party have been calling this proposal foolish but we should look at this a little more closely as there is more to it than meets the eye.

The Lib Dems have spent years building up our independent voice and influencing other parties policies. Clegg’s meeting with the Governor of the Bank of England in May 2010 changed that and we ended up those at the top of the party supporting the Tory economic policy despite having campaigned against it. Why Clegg changed his mind is open to debate for many.

As time has gone on those at the top of the Lib Dem party have had to implement the policies they campaigned against but came to believe were necessary. The months and months of hard work, explaining, convincing, and campaigning all lead to one place – certainty. Key actors feel a strong personal sense of responsibility and emotional attachment to a project/policy and end up being crucial to its implementation. Alexander has been part of the Treasury for a while now and is therefore surrounded by people (civil servants and other politicians) who are concerned about the same issues, have the same information and have to come up with a plan to get out of the problems we have. They agreed on how to do it so the only debate comes with the detail but they are still all on the same page. It makes perfect sense for him to end up suggesting that the Tories and the Lib Dems should have the same economic policy. The problem is that as someone from a different party he needs to have some mechanism to protect himself from this merging of ideas and ideals.

This leads to a bigger problem. Some of the most disastrous political projects of the last 20 years have been due to the civil service. An unelected body of individuals divorced from the reality of the projects they are tasked to oversee and are often prone to influence from lobbyists – no matter how inappropriate the project. For a classic example of this see the millions and millions of pounds wasted on top of the child deaths as a result of a policy they were told was not going to work in the first place, only to go on a 20 year project to implement them anyway because they had been persuaded by the IT lobby it was a good idea. It wasn’t and we are now having to break this up.  But when in Government you are surrounded by these people who convince new Ministers certain things are a good idea. That is why they become out of touch with the public.

In a Coalition, the two parties are collaborating and ideas will converge eventually. We are living in dire economic times and politicians are getting their advice from those who are considered to be in the know. The problem is that no one is in the know. Mervyn King has got things wrong on so many occasions it is a surprise anyone is still listening to him, but they are and he managed to convince Clegg the Lib Dems should change our fully costed and carefully put together economic plan. What the civil service wants are people who are good at managing the brief well and not causing too much trouble in how things run. This is known as a technocrat and as Ministers listen to civil servants a result is that they end up acting and sounding like technocrats.

Technocrats are experts who are a highly skilled elite group. They may be able to manage things well in the eyes of civil servants and the markets, but they are divorced from the realities of people in the country. Some people may respect a technocrat and even feel the country is in safe hands. But no one will vote for a technocrat. They have no emotional tie to them. Acting and sounding like one is a very bad move.

Have a listen to Danny Alexander explaining the 2011 Budget ‘priorities’ and it just feels like a technocrat explaining why they have done what they have done. Values are almost an add on, and in many ways retrospective as it was something agreed they had to implement. It doesn’t leave you with a sense that he believes in fairness, or liberalism, or social justice. It leaves you with a sense that he is a Government Minister. You could almost imagine George Osborne saying the same thing – he even uses the word fairness when talking about the measures being taken.

Have a listen to other Lib Dem ministers and see what you think. Lib Dem ministers need to find a buffer for the problems faced with being in Government – namely staying true to who we are. They should not surround themselves with civil servants and other government ministers for longer than necessary. They should not make friends with them either, no matter how tempting this may be, it is dangerous when in a position of such power. They should continually ask how it fits with the values of the Lib Dems and where it doesn’t fit be prepared to say so. They should keep in mind that power corrupts and ask themselves if their thinking is being corrupted. Most importantly, they should be coming back to the party and asking them what we should be doing in the future in the knowledge that their thinking has been tainted by the position they have been in – not making commitments that are not theirs to make. No one knows what the economy will be like in 2015 and we certainly should not be fighting on the same platform as the Tories. If this coalition has taught us anything, it is surely that throwing ourselves in with the Tories has not been a move that will gain us votes. Perhaps the next thing this Coalition will teach us is that Lib Dem politicians are also prone to being influenced by the positions they hold. The difference between a Lib Dem Minister and others is that they should know how to mitigate this effect, not pander to it.

Polling of Tories on Lib Dem ministers: Danny Alexander more a Tory than Ken Clarke?

Ken Clarke

Image via Wikipedia

ConservativeHome have undertaken a poll on how popular Conservative and Lib Dem ministers are with the Tories which makes for interesting reading. Nick Clegg is no longer seen as one of the Tories and appears near the bottom along with Ken Clarke, while Danny Alexander makes it higher than many Tory MPs.
So Nick Clegg has gone down in the eyes of Tory members but up in the eyes of Lib Dem members. Considering Cable and Huhne have been doing well in the eyes of Lib Dem members I guess this is a good think? Interestingly Ken Clarke is down with the Lib Dem ministers, suggesting that the Tories see him as Lib Dem at heart? Now would be a good time to ask him to join the Lib Dems.

Clearly he would say no but the more he is marginalised by Tories the more they marginalise what he stands for, which is centrist and liberal principles (One Nation). If we want centrist voters to vote for us we need to be seen as the home of centrist policies, people and ideas. Asking him will show we are open to people joining us and it will show the ideas he represents belong with us.

As for Danny Alexander, does his high rating among Tories mean he is doing a good job or a bad job? If he were doing a good job in the eyes of Lib Dems would he not be further down the list? If he were more centrist would he not be disliked more than he is? It is difficult to see what he is doing that differentiates him from Tories so the perception is that he more a Tory than Ken Clarke. He needs to take some lessons from Clarke and Huhne perhaps?

In Praise of the Daily Telegraph: Finding strengths in Danny Alexander

The Daily Telegraph write Is power without popularity the best David Cameron can hope for? in which it comments on Danny Alexander and what those on the right of the political spectrum consider to be his strengths. Not necessarily what those on the left would believe to be strengths but praise for him nonetheless:

Over the past year, Danny Alexander has become the Tories’ favourite Liberal. As Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he ranks low in the Cabinet hierarchy, but few ministers are more important, few posts more demanding… At the outset, when he replaced David Laws, who had City experience, there were widespread worries as to whether he would be up to it. That now seems like ancient history. He has proved himself in combat. Whatever the Coalition’s fate, most Tories would like to keep Danny Alexander and yesterday he received the ultimate accolade. Norman Tebbit called him “remarkably sound”.

In Praise of the Guardian: Finding stengths in Danny Alexander

The Guardian interview Danny Alexander in Danny Alexander: ‘I want to be able to say I did the things I thought were right’ where they describe him as a Lib Dem rising star. While a fairly functional interview it does offer a small indication of his strengths worth highlighting:

Not for nothing was he the Lib Dems’ principal negotiator in the days of discussions which produced the coalition agreement, a role he is now repeating in delicate negotiations with the trade unions over pension reform. He may retain the look of an overgrown schoolboy, but there is steel there, perhaps born of unselfconsciousness.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 51 other followers