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Consider the Liberal Democrat Cabinet Ministers

Last Updated: Friday, November 5th, 2010

Consider the Liberal Democrat Cabinet Ministers.  Nick Clegg is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with David Cameron in trying to make the Coalition work, and sell its case for the deficit reduction programme.  Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is working is a similar way with George Osborne.  Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary, has the grim task of fronting for the Government in Scotland, which has only one Conservative MP.  Chris Huhne at Energy is less besieged – though the obstacles he faces are equally challenging – and delighted to be a Cabinet Minister.  Both men, like Clegg and Alexander, are busy with their briefs.

That leaves only one man standing.  He’s less cheerful than Huhne – indeed, he joked about his hangdog looks in his speech to his Party’s Conference – and ranges far wider.  Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has emerged since the Coalition’s formation not only as a formidable head of his own Department, but as an influential figure on policy outside it, and as the conscience in Government of the Liberal Democrat grassroots.

Cable this week won two significant victories.  The first was the exemption of intra-company transfers from the annual immigration quota.  The second was the referral of Ofcom to examine News Corporation’s bid to take control of BSkyB.

The Home Office will be concerned about the first.  Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has had at least one major run-in with Cable about his briefing of newspapers to further his campaign to loosen the immigration cap.  The Business Secretary has seen her off on this point – assisted by Conservative Ministers such as Michael Gove and, in his own Department, David Willetts, who’ve expressed concerns about the potential effects of a cap on business and Universities.

And Rupert Murdoch will be deeply displeased about the second.  Reports today claim that they may be considering selling off Sky News in order to ensure that the bid goes ahead.  Unsurprisingly, some Conservative Cabinet members took a different view from Cable and his Liberal Democrat colleagues but, once again, Cable’s view has won out.  One can’t help wondering how Andy Coulson, David Cameron’s communications guru, a man with close links to the Murdoch Empire, has reacted.

Cable’s influence, however, stretches well beyond his brief.  He was the final Cabinet member to address the Liberal Democrat Conference in October, confirming his pivotal role as a man who speaks both for the Party’s leadership (at one level, his speech was a defence of the Coalition) and for party members (at another, it was an attack on aspects of capitalism, or at least briefed out in advance as being so).

He’s not altogether got his way on banking, of which he’s reflexively suspicious: the Treasury remains in charge of policy development.  But he seems to have a stranglehold on tax policy, at least when it comes to income tax.  The Coalition’s scheme to take poorer taxpayers out of tax altogether was his brainchild.  The top 50p rate, implemented by the last Government, was originally floated and persistently championed by him.

He confirmed in a pre-conference interview that, as far as staying in the Coalition goes, the most important issue to him is “fairness”.  This is effectively a code for higher taxes for richer people.  He’s unlikely to get his way in relation to the property and land taxes which he once again championed at the Liberal Conference.  But he’s an obstacle to any eventual reduction not only of the 50p rate, but the 40p rate too.

Cable will be kept busy during the coming political year by his student finance plans in particular.  His Party has formally torn up its commitment to opposing higher fees, and the Business Secretary will be kept busy trying to ensure that Liberal Democrat Ministers vote for his hybrid scheme – part higher fees, part new charges – and that the party’s backbenchers at least abstain on them.  But we can expect to hear from him both within his brief and outside it.  After all, Nick Clegg needs to keep him on side if the Government is to hold together.

 

Paul Goodman

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE LAST WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Not the Squeezed Middle, but Sid’s Heirs: “This group overlaps significantly with the C1s and C2s.  ‘Sid’s heirs’ is a better description of the people concerned than ‘The Squeezed Middle’ – at least if one wants to get Conservatives thinking about policies that appeal to them.  They’re very likely to own their own homes, likely to work in white collar or skilled manual jobs, and use public services.  The Tories should strive to deliver the following five outcomes in particular for these voters (and others) over the course of this Parliament: less immigration, more homes, more places in good schools, cuts in the standard rate of tax, share sales.” More: http://is.gd/gKqz5

When every ‘child in care’ costs £25,000pa why are rates of adoption falling?
: This week is National Adoption Week and the Independent on Sunday notes that the number of adoptions are falling despite the huge personal and social costs of vulnerable children languishing in local authority ‘care’.

In 2006, only 3,700 children were adopted. But the latest figures show that the number has declined even further, to just 3,200 children. Children’s Minister Tim Loughton says that he wants more adoptions and he wants them to occur with less delay. Children in care are some of society’s most vulnerable members. They deserve to become a much bigger priority. More: http://is.gd/gKr6x

The ECHR doesn’t just give prisoners the vote. It’s also the elephant in the room on security: So the courts not only have the power to award murderers the vote, but have the capacity to prevent terrorists from being locked up in the first place.  And all under the provisions of the ECHR.  The principle of judicial independence is indispensable to our democracy, and the Convention was a noble post-war attempt to replicate the freedoms which it guarantees across western Europe.   But politicians are accountable to voters while judges are not.  Most people are repulsed by the idea of the courts giving prisoners the vote or setting terrorists free to conspire simply because the ECHR gives them room to do so. More: http://is.gd/gBTbn

 

North Korea – Time for Action, Time for Dialogue, Time for Peace: David Cameron has an opportunity to take up this agenda when he visits China next month. President Obama has an opportunity to finally earn his premature Nobel Peace Prize. The world, and the people of the Korean peninsula, have an opportunity for peace and the beginnings of change. We have an opportunity to draw North Korea in from the cold. The North Koreans are knocking, hesitantly, at our door. Will we have the courage and wisdom to answer? More: http://is.gd/gKrO0

The Republicans make historic gains but can they undo the huge legislative achievements of the Obama-Pelosi sprint?” The GOP now have some power in a country where the characteristics that made America exceptional are being fast eroded. In the next two years House Republicans will set the budget, subject to the White House’s veto. Do they have the courage to make cuts that will restore sanity to America’s finances? And, most importantly, can they develop an agenda which – with a Republican president – they can enact from 2012 that will do more than reverse the Obama-Pelosi settlement but will restore American economic vitality? More: http://is.gd/gKs2B

JP Floru: Big Society – Volunteers could run striking public services: Why is it that a trade union is allowed to cause financial loss without paying compensation?  Why is the Underground not fully automated, just like the Docklands Light Railway? Perhaps we should not rely upon the state to provide essential services.  Why, under the Big Society umbrella, volunteers could do it instead!  Volunteers providing public services while its workers are on strike has a long tradition.  The General Strike of 1924 caused trams, buses, gas, electricity, the Underground and other essential services to be interrupted.  A state of emergency was declared.  Thousands of volunteers pitched in and within a week the strike was called off. More: http://is.gd/gKsFM

Murdoch gets Cameron’s “It’s all the Liberal Democrats’ fault” excuse: “What we are seeing played on NewsCorp is the trick that Team Cameron plays each time the Tory Right (Fraser Nelson correctly insists they be called the Tory Mainstream) complains about something –

“Yes, Mr Carswell, we’d really, really love to do something about repatriation of powers, but it’s impossible in Coalition. I hope you understand.

Yes, Mr Binley, of course we’re sympatheic about your “no votes for prisoners motion”, but the Liberal Democrats won’t let us have a British Bill of Rights.

We really do sympathise, Mr Brady. We are against Ken Clarke’s policy, too, but with the LibDems on his side…

Now, with crocodile tears welling up in the Cameroonian eye, it’s: “So sorry, Mr Murdoch, but Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have tied my hands”. More: http://is.gd/gKsYn

 

Has a recent British Government had worse relations with Israel than this one?: “Conservative Ministers clearly believe that senior Israeli politicians shouldn’t be troubled, when visiting Britain, by frivolous lawsuits from left-wing hypocrites who wouldn’t twitch a finger if the red carpet was rolled out for Castro, Kim Jong-Il, or Ahmadinejad.  But the Coalition, perhaps because the Liberal Democrats tend to take a different view, has dawdled on the matter…I’m all for Cameron rapping the Israelis if necessary.  But not, please, in Turkey, which is where he made his remarks about Gaza: it was an egregious blunder, unlikely to help persuade Israel to extend technical co-operation (which we could do with) on how to tackle Islamist terror attacks against our own population.” More: http://is.gd/gKtcB 

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