Vince Cable’s speech to the Lib Dem conference felt in many respects like Gordon Brown’s used to in the the days of Mr Tony: highly partisan, and designed to promote his interests over those of the Coalition.
Dr Cable lashed out at “head-bangers” who viewed “the idea of sacking people as some kind of aphrodisiac”, as we report. He also made a barbed comment on the Andrew Mitchell affair, describing himself as a “pleb”. Among the economic strategies highlighted were the heavily trailed £1bn for the Bank of Vince, splitting out investment and retail banks, and “demand stimulus”, as the FT (£) reports.
The morning papers are full of analysis of Vince’s leadership prospects. Although Quentin Letts in the Mail was unimpressed, writing that “Vince sounded like his pet gerbil had been scoffed by the family dog,” others were more generous. Writing in the Times (£), Ann Treneman, sees him assuming the mantle:
“Vince believes coalition government is here to stay...Do you know what that means? That means Vince as Deputy Prime Minister - a pleb with power. Now that’s Andrew Mitchell’s total nightmare.”
The rise of Vince has gone hand in hand with the perceived decline of Nick Clegg. The Guardian’s polling indicates that his apology on tuition fees has actively damaged his personal ratings. In the Times (£), Rachel Sylvester sums up his difficulties:
“Nick Clegg was once the Liberal Democrats’ Harry Potter, the boy wizard who worked his magic on the voters in the leader’s TV debates. Now he is demonised as a political Voldemort, whose Dementors are sucking the life out of his party’s poll rating.”
Dr Cable is not without his problems, though. The Independent senses that he has had another “Murdoch moment” in appearing to pre-judge the BAE / Eads deal without having read any of the submissions which will be made to him. With this being such a sensitive area for Tory backbenchers (theMail reveals that the defence select committee is to investigate the deal), Vince’s comments could provoke a major row in the coming months.
ECONOMIC DILEMMAS FOR CAMERON
The tax and spend policies advocated by the Lib Dems ostensibly present a problem for a Conservative Party which is weary of the flack it will receive if George Osborne scraps his debt targer. However, Janan Ganesh in the FT(£) argues that the last budget would have included a wealth tax, and the Tories are less ideologically opposed than many assume. This is not the only move which might risk the ire of the backbenchers. The Sun reports that David Cameron will not abandon his 0.7 per cent of GDP pledge on international aid.
Actually, the biggest economic challenge Mr Cameron faces will be whether or not to let his Chancellor off the leash when the Autumn Statement on Dec 5 confirms that the fiscal position is far worse than anticipated, as I write in today’s Telegraph:
“I also detect some uncertainty over how Mr Cameron will play the decisions to come. Senior figures involved in the internal debates claim that the argument will be just as much between Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne as between the Lib Dems and Tories. Putting aside what Mr Clegg might let him have, will the Prime Minister even dare to ask for more cuts if they are needed? It is a testament to how uncertain ministers are about his political strength that they wonder whether he will be ready to defy those who insist that the economy cannot withstand any further reduction in demand, whatever the markets might say.”
Part of Osborne’s strategy may include an old favorite. As the FT (£) reported this morning, PFI is rumoured to be back on a large scale. If this is the case, it will be a hard sell to the public. £302 to install an electrical socket, anyone?
If Mr Cameron does bargain with the Lib Dems, the Independent reports that a rise in council tax for millionaires will be high on their list. The strategy of ‘soaking’ the rich might have popular support, but is that really the root of the problem? As Dominic Lawson writes in this morning’sIndependent:
“The truth is that both in the US and (to a lesser extent) the UK, governments have for years acted efficiently as vote-maximisers with their tax and spend policies: increasing the number of those eligible for benefits while reducing the number called upon to fund them. Result (as Mr Micawber might have put it): misery, in the form of a colossal national debt. The rich will indeed have to pull their weight in order to help pay this down, probably with higher council tax; but it is fatuous for any numerate politician to pretend that this is where the fiscal problem lies.”
Still, at least there should be little resistance if the Conservatives go after pensions. A report in today’s Mirror claims that the party have so few voters over the age of 65 that they will not challenge cuts to elderly benefit entitlements.
MITCHELL’S HECTIC DAY
Thrasher’s claim to have endured a long and tiring day when he insulted a police officer have been somewhat undermined by this morning’s papers. The Sun reports that he lunched at the Cinnamon Club AKA “UK’s poshest curry house”, while the Times (£) adds that he was on his way to the Carlton Club when the incident occurred.
Our splash this morning is publication of the entire police log book from the incident. It appears to back up the claims that Mr Mitchell called an officer a “pleb”. Commentators are still largely set against Mr Mitchell, notably Stephen Glover in today’s Mail, and Polly Toynbee in theGuardian. In my blog, I wrote that the whole affair is starting to toxify the system:
“Either the Chief Whip or one of the policemen who guards the Prime Minister is not telling the truth. In either case, it undermines the integrity of public life. That matters far more than whether two men had a shouty moment, or whether one of them called the other a 'pleb'.”
SLIDING DOWN THE GREASY POLL(S)
Two very poor poll results for the Conservatives this morning. Firstly, theGuardian / ICM monthly poll shows Labour opening up a 10 point lead over Tories. The polling also suggests that the Lib Dems, who are unchanged on 14 per cent, would stage a recovery were Vince to become their prince. If Cable was leader, the Lib Dems would jump to 19 per cent. However, Vince appears prepared to bide his time, a fact not lost on theGuardian’s leader writers:
“This morning's poll shows that a change of leader might offer the Lib Dems an electoral dividend that could make a palpable difference. Perhaps they can afford to resist that thought now. But if things have not changed in a year's time, it will be harder to do the same thing then.”
Worse news for the Conservatives comes in the day’s second poll. The TMS BMRB survey puts the Conservatives on a lowly 28 per cent, and gives Labour a massive 16 point lead. Senior figures in the Conservative party still feel that, when the economy has turned a corner and voters have had a chance to examine Ed Miliband more closely, they will baulk at returning a Labour government. Too many more polls like this, and those assumptions will need revisiting.
TORY PARTY A HOTBED OF REPUBLICANISM
The Mail reports that David Laws opened his speech yesterday with a recollection from his first Lib Dem conference, back in 1994. Paddy Ashdown was apparently furious that the conference had just voted to legalise cannabis. The following motion did little to placate him. Step forward a young, female delegate to propose abolishing the monarchy. The proposer? Liz Truss, then the president of the Lib Dems at Oxford, now Conservative MP for South West Norfolk.
FARRON LETS RIP
Tim Farron, former left-wing standard bearer, was gaining an unwelcome reputation among Lib Dems for being conciliatory towards the Conservatives over the economy. It didn’t last long. The FT (£) reports that yesterday found him at a fringe meeting accusing Tory colleagues of acting with “slipperiness” and “duplicity” over Europe and predicting that euroscepticism would become “a monster that is going to consume them”. Good to see him back on form.
WHATEVER BORIS CAN DO...
So can Dave. The Prime Minister is to follow in the Mayor of London’s footsteps and make an appearance on the David Letterman show, according to this morning’s Telegraph. Bo-jo managed to emerge relatively unscathed from his appearance. The worst blow which Letterman landed on him was asking how long he had been cutting his own hair.
NICK CLEGG: SHEOODLE
And finally... The Sun carries the results of its latest probe into the psyche of the British electorate this morning. Asking voters which animal Nick Clegg reminds them of apparently draws the answer: ‘a cross between a sheep and a poodle’. If he were a car, he would be a Smart car or a Skoda. Surprisingly, the personal approval ratings weren’t good either....
TWEETS AND TWITS
Glyn Davies is feeling cuckolded by the Lib Dems:
@GlynDaviesMP: “Watching Lib Dem conference is like watching your wife at a party chatting up every bloke there and rubbishing your satisfaction performance”
ICM / Guardian: Con 31%, Lab 41%, Lib Dem 14%, UKIP 6%