Danny Alexander's more balanced approach to tackling deficit


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The Independent Online

Coalition politics can be a little confusing. On Wednesday we listened to what George Osborne called a “Coalition Budget delivered by a Conservative Chancellor”. Today, we were confronted by the bizarre spectacle of a Liberal Democrat “Budget” from a Coalition Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander. His earlier stunt, posing outside the Treasury with a bright yellow sort-of-Budget-box was more amusing than statesmanlike.

Still, the substance of what Mr Alexander had to say was much more impressive. Easily dismissed as “splitting the difference” between the Conservative and Labour routes to deficit reduction, the Liberal Democrats do have a more balanced, pragmatic approach to the task. Mr Alexander and his colleagues would indeed try to avoid the worst of the cuts the Tories would inflict on public services, and they rule out tax cuts for the rich, such as on inheritance tax. Unlike Labour, though, they would attempt to protect incentives and not simply ramp up taxes on the middle classes, and borrow more and more to fund an ever-rising deficit.  

Of course, neither the Labour nor Conservative parties put up anyone senior to answer Mr Alexander’s statement, and Mr Alexander delivered his words to a depressingly empty chamber. In recent days it has become clear that we may not even have a three-way economic debate on TV because Ed Balls, childishly, refuses to appear with Mr Alexander or, presumably, Vince Cable – who still carries some voter appeal.

That, though, is not the main problem the Liberal Democrats face. For ever since the tuition fees fiasco, most voters gave up listening to them. A pity, as five years in government have clearly matured the Lib Dems, despite their sometimes gauche ways.