Should the Tories be gunning for Vince?

Should the Tories be gunning for Vince?

Why’s the LDs biggest asset getting such an easy ride?

There’ve not been many winners from the economic crisis, political or otherwise. Robert Peston is very probably one, Vince Cable another: he has become the TV and radio studios’ politician of choice for comment on the crisis and related matters.

That’s a huge asset for the Lib Dems, as third parties can struggle to get their voice heard when there’s a serious debate between the big two or where the third party doesn’t have a particularly distinctive policy. Cable has managed to transcend those barriers and probably appears more often than Alistair Darling, George Osborne or any other economic spokesman from Labour or the Tories. If he doesn’t actually do so then it certainly seems as if he does – and for practical purposes that amounts to the same thing.

What’s perhaps surprising is the extent to which the other parties have allowed Cable to reach this position and that applies particularly to the Conservatives. A successful opposition needs to do two things: hit the government where it matters and give the appearance of being an alternative and better government themselves.

The state of the economy is without doubt the biggest political issue – see Mori’s chart here – and so being able to land the punches there matters, yet the Tories are being crowded out of the debate by Vince and so are failing to maximise their achievement of either.

Can the Conservatives do much about that? The answer is surely yes, the supplementaries are whether they will and whether they should. Labour is intent on creating dividing lines and therein lies both the opportunity and the threat: if the Conservatives were to announce more policy details, that would enable the debate to become more direct and so bypass the Lib Dems – but doing so will also open the Tories up either to attack or to having their policies copied.

The other alternative of aiming to undermine Cable directly risks getting sidetracked and letting the government off the hook (though the Conservatives would no doubt like to put at least a substantial dent in his majority in Twickenham). It would also probably be quite difficult to do given Cable’s strong public reputation and the often esoteric nature of economic debate and could just as easily backfire.

The net result is that the Tories are a bit stymied. On this site, Mike’s rated highly George Osborne’s political skill and he has indeed been central to many of the Tories’ successes during the past four years. Those successes have however mainly been policy and strategy based. As opposition lead on the economy, he also has to take on Cable as well as Darling. That requires a slightly different skill-set and could prove his biggest challenge yet.

Of the Conservatives and Labour, whoever wins that argument is likely to come out on top in the election – but before winning it, you have to be heard.

David Herdson

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