That said, I was blown away by Danny Alexander's closing speech in the Budget debate in the Commons last night. He rocked, pure and simple. Read the whole thing here because in it he smashes to bits the arguments of all those naysayers in the press who said that he was not up to this difficult job. I said at the time that he was the natural choice for the job after David Laws (and don't think I've forgiven Labour for his loss either) and his performance in the first month backs that up.
Danny had real fire in his belly last night. Given that he's at the coal face in the Treasury and has seen at first hand the horror that was bequeathed to the Government, it was kind of insulting that Liam Byrne, the man who left the "there is no money left" note, was summing up for the Opposition. I tweeted at the time that I hoped Danny would remind us all of that note. He did:
And this from the man who wrote the note saying, "There's no money left", the most infamous letter in recent British political history. However, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) gave us not one single word of apology for his Government's actions.
On the decision to raise VAT, he had this to say:
We have taken the tough decision to increase VAT by 2.5%. With a structural deficit some £12 billion larger than the previous Government told us, we had a difficult choice to make: whether to fill that hole by making yet more spending cuts or to increase taxes. Further spending cuts would, I believe, have made it impossible to protect the most essential services in the spending review, so the VAT rise was unavoidable.
No party went into the election promising to increase VAT, but the hon. Gentleman should make no mistake: the rise in VAT is a result of the public finances that we inherited from his Front-Bench colleagues. One could say that it is a Labour inheritance tax.
Well and truly warmed up, he compared and contrasted this Government with Labour's record as self styled guardians of the poor - our restoring the pensions/earnings link contrasted with Labour's insulting 75p rise; our taking 880,000 (not far off a million) out of tax while Labour increased their burden by abolishing the 10p tax rate.
And then the killer punch:
"Compare their complacency with our responsibility. Compare their legacy of ruin in the public finances with our approach of fairness as we take steps to clean up the mess that they left. Compare their obstinate refusal to take unilateral action in introducing a banking levy with our resolute leadership, which not only delivered a levy but brought France and Germany along with us too. The Opposition would have us living in denial. Their approach to the deficit seems to be see no deficit, hear no deficit, speak no deficit. One Opposition Member even told us in today's debate that they believed the deficit was a fantasy. It is such self-indulgence and complacency that led us into the mess we are in. The way that they got us here is not the way out."
Listening to the preceding debate, I was surprised that Liam Byrne was able to speak in relative silence but Danny managed to deliver this excellent speech while getting dogs' abuse from the Labour benches. They just seemed like a bunch of unruly thugs. That's Labour for you - authoritarian in Government, unruly and contemptible in opposition.
If you were seriously concerned about the effect of the Budget on the poor, wouldn't you be diligently trying to suggest workable alternatives and offer other suggestions on how you would deal with the deficit? That's what we did when we were in opposition. Remember that Vince Cable and Nick Clegg were using the D word and making suggestions to tackle it long before anyone else.
Danny Alexander's able and passionate conclusion of last night's Budget debate showed that he can be trusted to argue for and implement the fairest possible measures when negotiating the pain that's still to come. I know he's in a political dangerous position, but to be honest I'd rather a Liberal Democrat was there than a Tory - and we have an extremely competent guy there whose heart is unquestionably in the right place.