The big joke at the Social Market Foundation and TUC fringe this evening was that two of the panelists could have delivered one another’s speeches. Those panelists were Oliver Letwin and Danny Alexander, who were both speaking about the government’s economic plan, its infrastructure policy and how to achieve growth. When Danny came to speak, he told the audience that he agreed with and could have delivered all of Letwin’s speech, and that the only thing the pair disagreed on was Europe.
Alexander being so wonderfully cosy with Letwin might be a good thing for the coalition – and Letwin is know for being a Lib Dem-ish Tory. But it’s a strange thing for the chief secretary to the Treasury to admit at his own party conference. As James writes today, Lib Dems already suspect him of having ‘gone native’, and one delegate repeated that accusation at the Q&A with Nick Clegg this afternoon, accusing him mysteriously of being too in thrall to ‘Peter Osborne’. Letwin’s attempt at differentiation between the two coalition parties seemed to be limited to him turning up in a wonderful suit befitting a country gentleman, while Danny was wearing a normal shirt and tie.
As for Letwin, he painted a wonderful picture of a beautiful dawn for the economy just around the corner. He said he had some sympathy with the idea that ‘the darkest hour comes before the dawn’, and that the economy was ‘nearing’ that dawn. It was a very optimistic assertion, and one that sent the eyebrows of his fellow panelist Frances O’Grady from the TUC shooting up into her forehead. Danny didn’t repeat the image in his speech, though: perhaps this level of optimism is one thing these two men don’t see eye-to-eye on.