Alexander: The Lib Dem who knows he can make a difference

Not yet 40, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is doing what few have done before: hammering out a Budget as part of a coalition government. He speaks to Oliver Wright

It would be fair to say that Danny Alexander has had one of the most extraordinary ascents in recent British politics.

By a quirk of electoral arithmetic and an unexpected scandal he is – two months shy of his 40th birthday – arguably one of the four most important men in Government.

As one of the "Quad" along with David Cameron, Nick Clegg and George Osborne, every important decision made by the Coalition crosses his desk.

And for the next ten days in the run up to the Budget his role as Chief Secretary to the Treasury has never been more central.

The times when he was a press officer and journalists in Westminster used to disdainfully attempt to escape his briefings are a distant memory.

The last few days have been particularly busy. When we meet – on the 6.50pm train to Hull – he has already been in three meetings with the Chancellor that day and over the previous week has attended four or so meetings of the Quad, thrashing out details of the Budget in 12 days' time.

Unlike previous governments where budget decisions went to the wire and the Treasury reputedly bought fast-drying ink so that all the documents could be printed in time, this year key agreements have to be made earlier.

Partly this is the nature of coalition government, which means everything has to be formerly signed off by both parties, but also the new Office of Budget Responsibility needs all the Treasury's documents in advance so there is less room for manoeuvre.

"The days of chancellors sitting up till 2am the night before the Budget trying to work out what to do are long gone," he says.

Like all ministers before a Budget he is cagey about what it will contain (that doesn't usually stop "sources" from leaking most of it) but he does confirm that there is still a robust argument going on.

"Nick and I are fighting bloody hard," he says. "It is not easy."

At the heart of the discussions is the question of where to spend what very limited resources there are available.

Many on the Tory side would like to see the Government get rid of Labour's 50p tax rate and reverse the planned cuts in child benefit for those earning more than £40,000 a year.

On the Lib Dem side the priority is bringing workers earning less than £10,000 out of tax and pushing the idea of moving the tax system from one which favours taxing income to one which focuses on wealth.

While he will not be drawn on specifics you get the clear impression that while the Lib Dems will make gains on the first demand the idea of a mansion tax is off the cards – whatever Vince Cable may say.

"Our very top priority is lifting the income tax threshold to £10,000," Mr Alexander says.

"I genuinely think it is the best policy that any party in British politics has at the moment for trying to give some real help to people who are struggling, to encourage them to go out to work.

"Of course all these things have to be paid for – and different people have different priorities about how we might use money which is available to us. Those are things in a Coalition you have to debate and discuss. Different parties have different priorities. This is our priority. No doubt a range of those priorities will be reflected in the Budget."

Traditionally the Chief Secretary to the Treasury deals with government spending alone, but the nature of the Coalition means that Mr Alexander has to be aware of the whole gamut of economic policy. He has also had to take the lead on spending cuts, which he says has given him "a pretty thick skin as a result".

"I was incredibly conscious when making those decisions and still am as we deliver them that every number on every page represents a service or someone's job," he says.

Mr Alexander splits his time between his constituency home in Aviemore, in the Highlands, and London where he now has to spend a disproportionate amount of time. He is married to the journalist Rebecca Hoar and they have two daughters, Isabel and Isla.

So has the job changed him?

Unlike some politicians who can spin a yarn or tell an anecdote to help them speak "human", Mr Alexander still appears slightly self-conscious talking about himself. "In very practical terms it changes things," he says. "I've never worked as hard as I do now. I'm spending much more time in London. I probably don't spend as much time with my friends as a result. Probably every politician says this but from my point of view – no I don't think I've changed. I think I'm the same person I was. I have the same values; the same ideals."

In the longer term he faces significant political struggles with boundary changes which might carve up his electorate and the likelihood that – particularly in Scotland – the Liberal Democrats will be punished for going into government with the Olde Tory enemy.

Mr Alexander is unrepentant though, whatever electoral fortunes may bring.

"The Liberal Democrats really are making a difference," he says.

"We have an enormous amount to be proud of. We have a record to be proud of. We have got nothing to apologise for going into government. It is our opponents who should apologise."

Suggested Topics
Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?