Donald Macintyre's Lib Dem Conference Sketch: Like a band breaking up and arguing about who wrote the songs


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If the Rose Garden in 2010 was the joyous wedding, this is certainly the Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? stage of a noisy marriage breakdown, with the couple for some reason determined to stay together despite irreconcilable differences.

Actually, watching the Lib Dems castigating their Tory Coalition partners is more reminiscent of a major band unravelling – Oasis, say – with the added twist that the players are arguing in public about who wrote the songs.

On Sunday, it was Danny Alexander’s turn to play Noel Gallagher to George Osborne’s Liam. Recalling  what he had told The Sun, namely that it “really pisses me off ... when people say [it] is the Conservatives who have sorted out the economy,” he continued: “I wrote the recovery plan. Cutting taxes for working people. Not a Conservative idea – a Liberal Democrat idea. A dramatic increase in apprenticeships. Not a Conservative idea...” Well, you get the picture – though there was a lot more of this. Not to mention denouncing the “heartless, soulless” Tories – to some effect – for laying the deficit-cutting burden on the working poor.

“So roll your sleeves up and go tell our story,” the Chief Secretary to the Treasury urged the conference. Luckily, he had – unusually – come without jacket and tie, and had his sleeves rolled up. Alexander is the kind of general who would never ask his troops to do something he wouldn’t do himself.

He had a good go at Labour, too, of course. He said, the 2008 crash was the “product of the old two-party system”. Which was news to those know-nothings who thought it had something to do with the banks horribly overextending themselves.

Not so, explained Alexander, “Like two drunks fighting over the steering wheel of the car, the lurches between one single-party administration and another got bigger and bigger until they crashed it completely.” Hmm. A car crash metaphor which was a bit of a car crash itself.

There was one scary “Big Brother” bit when he warned that HMRC had now hired “psychologists and behavioural economists” to chase unpaid tax: “Tax dodgers beware... We know where you live and now we know what you think.” But then, revealing his softer side, he confessed to having shed “more than a few tears” when the Scottish referendum results came in.

Surprising, since you wouldn’t have thought he was a man for tears. But then his relief may have been compounded by realising that as a Scottish MP he still had the chance to lead his party.