Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury – like Nick Clegg but unlike Vince Cable – is a supporter of the Government of which he is a member. That came across strongly in his speech to the Lib Dems conference this afternoon:
With every step towards economic recovery we take, the party that caused the mess, the Labour Party, become even less credible. Ed Balls bet the house on a failing economy. He banked on a double dip that never happened. He predicted a triple dip that never came.
And now even his closest colleagues admit he is a busted flush. The Labour Party has opposed every single decision we’ve made. That was until Ed Balls declared that the Labour party would adopt a new found ‘iron discipline’ in public spending.
In fact, so strong is that commitment that the two Eds have managed to limit themselves to a meagre £45 billion of extra spending commitments. To be fair, once you’ve left the next generation with a debt of £828 billion to pay off. Rising at the rate of £3 billion a week, without any plan to deal with it, well what's another £45 billion between friends?
The trouble with Mr Alexander saying the Lib Dems should be able to claim some of the credit for the economic recovery is that Mr Cable and people like Tim Farron also "bet the house on a failing economy."
Where Mr Alexander has a point in noting that the recovery needs to be spread. The fall in unemployment is means that many who had no job at all are now working – even if low paid or part time that is important progress. Many businessmen are also finding their prospects advance. However many millions of ordinary people in the middle still find their wages are rising, slower than prices. For them the recovery has yet to arrive. They are still finding themselves worse off. That will change but until it does there needs to be some sensitivity towards the reality and emphasis on the need to achieve more.
Mr Alexander added:
The first sale of Lloyds’ shares, at above the price Labour paid, is an important milestone. And in future sales we will look for ways in which the British public to get involved. Because we are mending the economy, the tax payer is at last getting their money back.
The recovery is under way. Much more needs to be done to secure it. And we won’t flinch from our task. Anyone who claims the better economic news is all down to the Conservatives is just plain wrong. The decisions we have implemented in government, decisions you have taken in this hall. The brighter future that lies ahead – it’s only there because of us. And we should shout it from the rooftops.
I like the sound of that "ways in which the public could get involved" over further bank privatisation. If millions of voters are owning bank shares by the next election that would do the Conservatives (and the Lib Dems) no harm at all for their prospects at the polls.
There was the usual stuff about tax avoidance. Those looking for tax avoidance love complexity. Yet the Tolley's Tax Guide has to be 11,520 pages long to cover all the details and gets longer each year. Partly due to the Mr Alexander's beloved EU but also due to the failure of the Government to make a proper effort at tax simplification.
The other great way of avoiding tax is to move abroad to where taxes are lower. Yet Mr Alexander resisted cutting the top rate to 40p which would have helped to diminish this form of tax avoidance.
At an IEA fringe meeting at this conference the Lib Dem Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne MP said:
I can't recall the last time I saw a motion at conference that was critical of the party leadership for showing insufficient interest in enterprise, wealth creation, innovation.
We seem, at best, ambiguous about business becoming successful, employing more people. Sometimes we actually sound like we are quite uncomfortable – that we must find ways to demonstrate our disapproval of people becoming wealthy and successful and creating jobs in our economy.
I'm afraid Mr Browne's comments serve as the perfect critique for Mr Alexander's speech.