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Danny Alexander accuses Osborne planning "wilful destruction" of key public services

December 24, 2014 1:21 PM
By Andrew Grice in The Independent
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

Danny AlexanderGeorge Osborne has been accused by his Liberal Democrat deputy of planning the "wilful destruction" of key public services if the Conservatives win next May's general election.

Danny Alexander, a loyal ally of the Chancellor since the Coalition was formed in 2010, said Mr Osborne would make £60bn of unnecessary cuts by 2020. Claiming that his Treasury boss wants to "shrink the state", he warned that even deeper cuts would be needed to deliver the Tories' planned "unfunded" £7.2bn income tax reduction.

In an interview with The Independent, the Chief Treasury Secretary said: "The Tory agenda to keep reducing public spending beyond what is necessary would result in the wilful destruction of important parts of our public services. That is not appropriate or right for this country.

"People are prepared to go along with deficit reduction when they see it is necessary. When you are past that point, to where it is an ideological choice, people don't agree with that."

The Lib Dems support clearing the deficit on day-to-day spending on services by 2017-18 but, unlike the Tories, would meet 20 per cent through tax rises on the wealthiest.

Mr Alexander said: "When you go beyond that, you have to start looking at things that to my mind are just wrong."

He warned that the schools budget, provision for 16-19 year-olds, nursery education, and the pupil premium for children from low income families would all be at risk under Tory plans. In contrast, the front page of the Lib Dem manifesto next May would pledge to protect such spending.

He criticised Mr Osborne for ruling out any tax rises while proposing more welfare cuts.

"I find it very difficult to see how you find £12bn of savings focusing purely on working-age benefits. Having looked at it hard, I just don't see how that is possible whilst maintaining a degree of fairness and a proper safety net," he said.

If the Lib Dems were still in power, they would veto Iain Duncan Smith's plan to limit child benefit to the first two children.

On the proposed £7.2bn of tax cuts, he said: "The Tories are playing fast and loose with the economy and frankly with their own credibility. It is not affordable or achievable, especially as they said they do not want any tax rises. Presumably to shrink the state, they would also have to make further spending cuts needed to pay for their tax cuts. I don't think it adds up."

His strongest-ever criticism of the Chancellor will raise the eyebrows of some Lib Dem activists, who worry that Mr Alexander has been seen as too close to Mr Osborne as he wielded the axe.

Mr Alexander insisted his relationship with Mr Osborne is "absolutely fine". But using the past tense, he added: "George and I have worked effectively together in the Treasury to get on with the job of sorting out the economy. That is what both of us came into the Treasury to do, whilst recognising and understanding there are big political differences that cause arguments about policy."

A strong supporter of Britain's EU membership, Mr Alexander criticised Tory ministers including the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond for saying they might vote to leave in an in/out referendum. "That is a gross dereliction of duty. To have a foreign secretary who is willing to stand up and contemplate taking Britain out of the EU is completely potty," he said.

Although many of his criticisms echo Labour's, Mr Alexander is equally scathing about Ed Miliband's party, saying it has not learnt from its economic mistakes. He argued the weakness of the two big parties creates a "monumental opportunity" for the Lib Dems.

"Having the Lib Dems in the mix in the next parliament becomes the only way to stop the country lurching to one extreme or the other," he said. He is sure the Lib Dems will do much better next May than commentators suggest, but smiled: "We may be leaving it a bit late."

The 42-year-old MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey does not rule out running for the Lib Dem leadership one day, saying: "I have got a huge job to do. All these other things are bridges that will be crossed when and if we come to them."

Mr Alexander has been dubbed the "King of Candy Crush" at Westminster after reaching level 241 of 785 on the online puzzle game on his iPad. Unlike the Tory MP Nigel Mills, he does not play in the Commons but only "on a long plane to journey back to the Highlands or at home late at night".

Changing tunes: Danny and George

"There could not be a worse time to argue that we should abandon our plan…We won't do it. It is the foundation for everything else."- Danny Alexander, amid growing calls on George Osborne to abandon his Plan A, September 2012

"George Osborne and I work very closely together within the Treasury." - Danny Alexander, March 2013

"George and I both work hard to make sure that the Treasury is the department where the Coalition works best, because it is the department that is responsible for the policy area that brought the two parties together in the first place." - Danny Alexander, July 2013

"The Treasury team gets on famously well. The relationship between George [Osborne] and Danny Alexander is very, very good." - Rob Wilson, Conservative minister and former arliamentary aide to the Chancellor, February 2014

"If that's what people think about me, then they are wrong. I am Liberal Democrat - full stop, end of story." -Danny Alexander, February 2014, on Lib Dem claims he had "gone native" at the Treasury.