By Peter Hoskin
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There’s one finding that really stands out from this ComRes poll today, which is probably why the Independent has focused on it in their report. Apparently, 22 per cent of those Conservative supporters who expressed a preference would like David Cameron to sack George Osborne and replace him with Vince Cable. So, just in case some of that 22 per cent is reading, I thought I’d quickly list the three main reasons why elevating Cable to the Chancellorship isn’t such a good idea:
- It would upset the balance of the Quad and the Treasury. The most important decision-making body of Coalition is probably the Quad, that group-of-four consisting of David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne and Danny Alexander. At the moment, there’s a nice symmetry to it: the junior partner in government holds the junior Prime Minister and junior Chancellor roles. But if Cable were to be made Chancellor, this symmetry would be upset. Of course, Danny Alexander would be moved elsewhere, but that would also create problems. Much of the Treasury’s ministerial team would have to be shuffled on, which probably wouldn’t be perceived kindly by the markets, and all to accommodate Vince.
- He’s not Mr Collegiate. So far as mature, collectively-responsible government goes, it’s already bad enough that Vince Cable snipes at Downing Street from his seat in the business department. This would have severer ramifications — for the health of the Coalition and the progress of its policies — were he based on Downing Street too. Sure, he might restrain himself were he promoted, but it’s a risk. The fact that ‘various friends of Vince Cable’ are currently motioning for Osborne to be axed, and that Cable is reaching out to Labour, does not make you think he’d play nicely.
- Er, is he any good? It’s a fact sometimes forgot — not least by the man himself — that Vince Cable is already in charge of a department that ought to be spearheading the struggle for growth. Yet has he done enough there to really justify the promotion? One of his main achievements, so far as I can tell, is to have alienated lots of businesspeople, who now speak about him in unforgiving terms — not an ideal qualification for the Treasury.
Oh, and just for a bit of balance, here’s one thing in Cable’s favour:
- He’s more popular than Osborne. Mr Cable still has some of the ‘people’s politician’ aura that he cultivated before the election. (Although whether this would remain were he presiding over a shrinking economy is another matter altogether).
Perhaps the most important consideration, however, is one that hovers between the two categories above: Chancellor Cable probably wouldn’t substantially change the government’s policy. The Coalition (and Cable too, if we take him at his word) is committed to its existing parameters for deficit reduction, and everything that falls within them — the proposals for infrastructure investment or for supply-side reform — would still be subject to the same internal horse-trading that goes on now. So why change your Chancellor, and suffer all the political fallout from that, if you’re not changing your approach? George Osborne is staying put.