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Opinion: The government is in real trouble and needs a new chancellor

May 22, 2012 3:22 PM
By Lev Eakins in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

1. The Economy - It's not growing, despite good signs in manufacturing and a recent drop in unemployment, we're back in recession and could even face another almighty shock if the Euro crisis deepens.

2. Ministers mucking things up - May, Hunt and Osborne have provided the government with a fatal combination of not getting the basics right (Abu Qatada and airport queues), the smell of sleaze (Murdoch) and the fallout from cutting taxes for the wealthy whilst raising them for pasty eaters, grannies and Churches.

3. Labour sky high in polls - Labour exceeded expectations in the local elections but worse is the national polling showing them with leads from 8% points (ICM), 10 points (Mori) and 14 points (YouGov). However, most important of all, they are starting to lead the government on economic competence.

4. Hollande - The last time a first-term French President failed to get re-elected was in 1981. What appeared to undo the charismatic right-wing incumbent was the economy, with a media-awkward left-wing challenger claiming victory on an anti-austerity ticket. Sound familiar?

The government must get a grip over day-to-day issues. Perhaps Teresa May should be moved out of the Home Office. The Leveson inquiry could provide some closure over the Murdoch affair if the government accepts the recommendations. Hunt may be forced to go. However, the elephant in the room is the economy.

We should have a government reshuffle in the next few days, and if Osborne isn't privately working on a new economic policy, or at least a substantial, credible growth plan to bolt onto it, then I would argue the only way to rescue the government is for Cameron to remove him from the Treasury.

We would need someone who isn't as politicly scheming as he is, a centrist, an economist who has had successful business experience outside the Westminster village and, preferably, someone who cannot be characterised as 'posh'. I would argue Vince Cable, Ken Clarke or David Laws fit this role.

Cable's stewardship at BIS has seen some sectors of manufacturing enjoy a quiet resurgence and for the first time since 1976 we're a net exporter of cars. His personal intervention in securing the Vauxhall factory at Ellesmere port, saving 2,100 jobs and creating 700 more also secures his future in the cabinet. It's not difficult to imagine Cable forcing the banks to lend more and more quickly. Clarke has the experience of turning round a failing economy as he did in the 90s and his experience of combating Whitehall resistance is invaluable. Laws oozes raw economic talent and commands huge respect from both sides of the coalition.

Any of these three have the credibility, experience and political position to turn the fortunes of the government around. The question is, does Osborne have a plan, and, if not, will Cameron have the balls to change the occupant of number 11? If he doesn't, the next occupant will be Balls himself - a truly frightening thought.

* Lev Eakins is a former Manchester Councillor and parliamentary candidate who now lives in Sussex.