Danny Alexander brings home the pork with fuel duty cut in Lib Dem seats

Of the 10 areas that will benefit from a fuel duty rebate, eight are held by Lib Dem MPs.

As we get closer to the general election, we are likely to see ever more instances of "pork barrel" politics, an invaluable US term to describe the use of government money for the benefit of ministers' constituents (derived from an old practice of giving slaves a barrel of salt pork as a reward). 

Labour is pointing today to the targeting of rural fuel duty relief at Lib Dem seats in Scotland. Of the 10 areas that Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander will announce will benefit from the rebate scheme (a 5p reduction in fuel duty), eight have Lib Dem MPs, including two in his own Inverness constituency. Here's the full list: 

· Acharacle (Scotland – Lochaber), postcode: PH36 – Charles Kennedy

· Achnasheen (Scotland – Ross & Cromarty) postcode: IV22 – Charles Kennedy

· Appin (Scotland – Argyll and Bute) postcode: PA38 – Alan Reid and Charles Kennedy

· Carrbridge (Scotland - Badenoch and Strathspey) postcode: PH23 – Danny Alexander

· Dalwhinnie (Scotland - Badenoch and Strathspey) postcode: PH19 – Danny Alexander

· Gairloch (Scotland - Ross & Cromarty) postcode: IV21– Charles Kennedy

· Lynton (England – Devon) postcode: EX35 – Sir Nick Harvey

· Strathpeffer (Scotland - Ross & Cromarty) postcode: IV14 – Charles Kennedy

As the FT's Kiran Stacey points out, this isn't the first time that Alexander, whose seat is being aggressively targeted by Labour, has doused his constituents with state largesse, "including funding for a tourist railway, a bailout for the London-Scotland sleeper train and tax breaks for ski lifts."

But Alexander has hit back this morning, declaring of the "pork barrel" charge: "That is total nonsense from the Labour party who refused throughout in their entire 13 years in office to recognise that in remote and rural communities is greater than in other parts of the country.

"The list of towns here are selected according to a series of strict and objective criteria which are based on what we think the European Commission will need to know about in order to approve the scheme – it would have been nice to have a longer list but on the other hand, what matters most here, is having something that we have a reasonable chance of being agreed and to make happen."

Danny Alexander delivers his speech at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow last month. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era