Danny Alexander clearly wanted to come across as casual and jovial for his speech to the Lib Dem conference. He wasn’t wearing a tie. His top button wasn’t done up. Neither were his cuffs because the Chief Secretary to the Treasury had, after years of politicians using it as a figure of speech, rolled up his sleeves. This sort of sartorial shift normally gets written up as a politician ‘on manoeuvres’, and Alexander did seem keen to appear a little different, a little more human, this time round. He even told the audience at one point that he was saying something ‘with all my heart’.
He had, though, scripted part of his speech for rather a different audience. ‘The last time I addressed a crowd this large,’ he said, looking out rather hopefully over a half empty auditorium.
It wasn’t clear what he was going to compare this ‘large crowd’ to. The number of people who tell pollsters they will vote Lib Dem in 2015? The number of Lib Dem women in the parliamentary party?
Anyway, he went on to talk about the Scottish campaign, calling the Tory strategy to link devolution to English votes for English laws ‘pathetic, wrong, desperate nonsense’. Later he called the Conservative plan to freeze working age benefits ‘heartless, soulless’ and warned that ‘left unchecked, the Tories will be taking the axe to your local school, to the support that many hard-working folk need to help make ends meet’. He insisted that the Lib Dems wouldn’t sign up to ‘a plan that says the only people who should pay to balance the books are the working poor’. To underline his party’s rejection of the policies announced at the Tory conference, the Chief Secretary announced a ‘fairness rule’ which would be the third fiscal rule the Lib Dems would stick to. It would require the government to make the wealthiest pay the most towards balancing the books.
Just the Tories failed to spell out how they would make the bulk of their savings from the welfare budget or indeed the savings they will need overall to ensure that the deficit is eliminated in order to introduce tax cuts, Alexander also failed to spell out anything particularly hefty on how the Lib Dems will do their own deficit reduction fairly. But his speech today shows that whatever happens, he is very keen to be at the very centre of things.