Sunday, May 30, 2010

Alistair Carmichael : was he even Clegg's third choice for SoS?

It's hard not to feel extremely sorry for David Laws given the circumstances of his case, although I've been slightly baffled by the suggestions in parts of the Tory/Lib Dem blogosphere over the last thirty-six hours that there was no cause for him to even consider his position. On the face of it, he was quite simply caught bang to rights breaching the expenses regime. Anyway, he's now fallen on his sword, and the dynamics of coalition politics mean that the ripples have hit the Scottish political world straight away. Has Danny Alexander just made history as the shortest-serving Scottish Secretary of all time? No idea, but must be close.

Being inclined to believe in fate, moments like this always make me slightly nervous. There's no immediately obvious reason to think that Michael Moore is any less likely to deliver on the enhancement of Scottish self-government than his predecessor, but I can't help wondering if we might one day look back on this as some kind of 'accidental turning-point'. The first question that formed in my mind was - what on earth was Alistair Carmichael doing in those pre-election Scottish "leaders'" debates if he wasn't even Nick Clegg's second choice for Secretary of State? I could understand him initially being leapfrogged by Alexander, in the sense that Clegg clearly wanted one of his closest confidantes at the cabinet table, but the appointment of Moore just looks like a calculated snub for the man who performed so creditably in those debates. Perhaps the public should have been informed that the Scottish Lib Dems were in fact being represented by Clegg's preferred candidate for Deputy Chief Whip.

Leaving aside the impact on Scotland, I wonder if there may be a silver lining to all this. However talented Laws is, he also just happens to be the Lib Dem MP ideologically closest to the Tories, so his appointment to such a key position didn't inspire much confidence that the 'social liberal' wing of the party was going to hold much sway within the coalition. As Danny Alexander doesn't seem to have much political identity of his own beyond being a leadership sychophant, it's impossible to say definitively that this mini-reshuffle marks a slight shift away from the right, but his contribution to BBC Scotland's recent programme on the welfare system did at least give the impression his instincts on social justice and the protection of the vulnerable are in the right place. Or at least they were at the time of filming - it's funny what a difference a ministerial title can make.


  1. Aye it's a wee shame is it no? Ah got up this mornin' an' put the news on. Ye wid honestly think that Mr Laws had got hit by a bus while in the process o' pushin' a wee bairn oot its road. Whit a hero, whit bad luck this should happen tae him, whit a great guy he wis, oan an' oan...

    Ah've really nae sympathy fer him. Aw the background shite aboot his 'relationship' aside, whit seems tae hae caught him wis the sense o' entitlement which aw the MPs share. At any point in the past fower years, since they changed the rules oan claimin' fer yer bidie-in, he could've stopped claimin'. But aw naw. He had tae keep pittin' in his dishonest claims 'cos he had tae have a second hoose tae dae his job'

    Ah expect MPs' expenses scandals'll be wi' us fer quite a while.

    So we've got the lovely Michael Moore tae play wi'. He's a bit widden is he no? Hae ye ever seen him smile? Ah dinnae suppose he'll be smilin' much now, as he tries tae stop the Liberal vote in Scotland fae meltin' awa' like snaw aff a dyke.

  2. That's a good point, Sophia - given the circumstances, the Lib Dems could really have done with someone more charismatic. I know there isn't exactly an embarrassment of riches on that front, but even so. Actually, the person they really need is Charles Kennedy, but that was never going to happen for obvious reasons.

  3. re Alexander:

    Mutton dressed as lamb.



    what do you make of this?

  5. Anon - stripping away the standard Telegraph spin, that sounds pretty much like the strategy the SNP have been following for some time now. If the Tory/Lib Dem government are really prepared to engage seriously on the fiscal powers of the Scottish Parliament (remains to be seen, of course), that's a huge opportunity that must be seized. What the Telegraph don't seem to understand about a 'gradualist' strategy is that the destination it's designed to gradually get us to is full independence!

  6. I'm rather inclined to suspect that Alastair Carmichael would refuse to serve with the Tories. From what I gather his views are radically at odds with those of Clegg, Laws and Alexander, tending more towards those of Labour and the SNP.

    Failing that, he may simply be too dangerous for Clegg to promote. Would he toe the coalition line when push came to shove or would he stand up for Scotland's social democratic traditions?

  7. I think Hythlodaeus has perhaps hit the nail on the head. Carmichael certainly seems to be more of the social democratic wing of the Lib Dems, whereas the Lib Dems in the cabinet are generally of the free market liberal side. Just look at the contributors to the Orange Book that set the tone for the Lib Dems' shift back towards the centre-right - Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Chris Huhne, Ed Davey, Steve Webb, and of course David Laws. They've all gotten ministerial posts, and the only contributors that didn't were those who are no longer MPs. Danny Alexander isn't among these contributors, but his role as Clegg's right-hand man implies he's of the same train of thought.

    In fact, looking up the centre-left Beveridge Group gives even more credence to Hythlodaeus's theory - check out this quote from one of the MPs that set up the group:

    "Should the party of Beveridge and Keynes approach issues with a prejudice in favour of the free market system? Should we enter every policy debate with an underlying belief that private is always better than public? I certainly do not think so. That was the approach which led the Conservatives to undertake the disastrous privatisation of British Rail in the mid 1990s."

    The MP in question? Alistair Carmichael.

    Incidentally, Huhne is in both camps, which is perhaps why he was overlooked for the post of Chief Secretary to the Treasury, despite being the obvious successor to Laws if you're looking for someone of a similar background in economics.

  8. Hythlodaeus - Absolutely, Carmichael is very much on the left of the Lib Dems, but he isn't actually refusing to serve with the Tories - he's the government's Deputy Chief Whip. My guess is (as Doug suggests) it's more of a case of Clegg refusing to countenance having someone with his views round the cabinet table, in much the same way that talented left-wingers were kept to the junior ministerial ranks under New Labour.