Lord Oakeshott has just sparked some outrage by arguing on the World at One that George Osborne, who he described as a ‘Chancellor on work experience’ should be replaced by Vince Cable. He said:
‘I do think that George Osborne, he’s got no business experience, he’s never worked outside politics, and you know, he’s doing surprisingly well for a Chancellor on work experience, but really in a torrid time like this I think we do need the absolute best people available.’
A now-backbench Lib Dem peer announcing he would like to see a Lib Dem leading the Treasury team isn’t exactly the most surprising revelation. But what was interesting was the way Danny Alexander, who appeared a few minutes later on the programme, handled Oakeshott’s suggestion. Here’s the exchange between the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Martha Kearney:
Martha Kearney: What about changing the Chancellor? Should George Osborne go, as your own Liberal Democrat colleague Lord Oakeshott has been saying this morning.
Danny Alexander: We have a very strong team in the Treasury as part of the Coalition government. The Coalition government is relentlessly focused on dealing with the problems in our economy. It’s what led to the Coalition being formed in the first place: bringing Liberal Democrats and Conservatives together, two parties with very different traditions, but bringing us together in the national interest, and we’ve got a strong team in the Treasury dealing with these things and we need to carry through the policies that I’ve just been talking to you about.
Martha Kearney: But as a Liberal Democrat, presumably you would agree with some of your colleagues that Vince Cable really should be Chancellor.
Danny Alexander: Well look, we’re in a coalition government. I’m working very closely with George Osborne, with Vince Cable, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. We’re all focused on bringing forward the right policy to support the economy to get us through these very difficult times.
Martha Kearney: You do seem to be avoiding my question, I mean, don’t you think Vince Cable would be a better Chancellor than George Osborne?
Danny Alexander: We’re in a Coalition government, we have a strong team in the Treasury. Vince Cable, George Osborne, myself, we work very closely together on all of these policies and we’ve got major announcements today on renewables, on gas, on energy policy as well as these industrial investments which Vince Cable has been working very hard to secure. So I think we have the right team. We’ve got a strong team and we just need to deliver on the policies which I think, given the scale and the deep-rooted nature of the problems that we’re dealing with, is the right policy mix for the country.
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it? The Business Secretary himself seems to be putting out warmer words: Nick Watt has just tweeted these words from Cable: ‘I disagree with Matthew Oakeshott’s call for new team at Treasury. Osborne doing good job.’
Oakeshott’s words have enraged loyal Tory MPs such as Daniel Byles, who took to Twitter to say that it showed ‘beyond all doubt that he is completely incapable of operating as a partner within a coalition’. But this isn’t a purely Lib Dem vs Tory row. Privately backbench Conservatives are speculating about the Chancellor’s chances in the forthcoming reshuffle. Some believe that he should be moved after leaving many of them embarrassed by the series of U-turns from the Budget. Today’s GDP figures will increase that speculation. But their favourites, equally unsurprisingly, would hardly delight Lord Oakeshott: William Hague and Philip Hammond are the most frequently-mentioned names.Tags: George Osborne, Lord Oakeshott, UK politics, Vince Cable