Danny Alexander at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Danny Alexander says OBR could audit Labour's manifesto

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury contradicts Osborne and says the idea is "well worth further consideration".

From the moment Ed Balls proposed allowing the OBR to audit Labour's tax and spending commitments (and those of other parties), the Tories sought to strangle the idea at birth. Sajid Javid, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, declared: "Ed Balls knows this is not allowed under the Budget Responsibility Act and the OBR's charter, so this is just a stunt to try and distract attention from the fact that Labour have been found out for making unfunded commitments that would just mean more borrowing and more debt.

"Nothing has changed - it's the same old Labour. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls still want more spending, more borrowing, and more debt - exactly how they got us into this mess in the first place. And it's hardworking people who would pay the price through higher taxes and higher mortgage rate."

The Tories' decision to torpedo the plan, which would require legislation, was entirely politically motivated. David Cameron and George Osborne intend to run an election campaign based on Labour's "black hole" and are determined to prevent anything that would allow the opposition to enhance its fiscal credibility. Back in October 2010, Osborne said that the possibility of OBR auditing was "a legitimate matter for the House to debate and decide". Yet a debate is precisely what he has refused to allow by rejecting the idea out of hand. 

But with the Chancellor away in Brussels, Balls seized the opportunity to question Danny Alexander on the subject at Treasury Questions today. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury may have been accused by his fellow Lib Dems of "going native" ("rather than meeting Danny we just ask for the Treasury 'lines' - it's quicker," one Lib Dem adviser told me recently) but today he contradicted his master by declaring that it was "an idea well worth further consideration" since "the British people need to know that what every party says is what it means". Balls, who has previously won the endorsement of Treasury select committee chair Andrew Tyrie, replied: "[T]here was some encouragement there, I would urge him, this once, on this one issue, to try and persuade the Chancellor to take a different view. Try and persuade the Chancellor this once to change his mind, to do the right thing, vote in the Finance Bill for this important change. It can be done, it should be done, let not the Liberal Democrats be a road block to this important reform."

It will probably take more than Danny Alexander to persuade Osborne to think again, but Balls's success in exposing this coalition divide leaves the Chancellor in a more awkward position. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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For the Ukip press officer I slept with, the European Union was Daddy

My Ukip lover just wanted to kick against authority. I do not know how he would have coped with the reality of Brexit.

I was a journalist for a progressive newspaper.

He was the press officer for the UK Independence Party.

He was smoking a cigarette on the pavement outside the Ukip conference in Bristol.

I sat beside him. It was a scene from a terrible film. 

He wore a tweed Sherlock Holmes coat. The general impression was of a seedy-posh bat who had learned to talk like Shere Khan. He was a construct: a press officer so ridiculous that, by comparison, Ukip supporters seemed almost normal. He could have impersonated the Queen Mother, or a morris dancer, or a British bulldog. It was all bravado and I loved him for that.

He slept in my hotel room, and the next day we held hands in the public gallery while people wearing Union Jack badges ranted about the pound. This was before I learned not to choose men with my neurosis alone. If I was literally embedded in Ukip, I was oblivious, and I was no kinder to the party in print than I would have been had I not slept with its bat-like press officer. How could I be? On the last day of the conference, a young, black, female supporter was introduced to the audience with the words – after a white male had rubbed the skin on her hand – “It doesn’t come off.” Another announcement was: “The Ukip Mondeo is about to be towed away.” I didn’t take these people seriously. He laughed at me for that.

After conference, I moved into his seedy-posh 18th-century house in Totnes, which is the counterculture capital of Devon. It was filled with crystal healers and water diviners. I suspect now that his dedication to Ukip was part of his desire to thwart authority, although this may be my denial about lusting after a Brexiteer who dressed like Sherlock Holmes. But I prefer to believe that, for him, the European Union was Daddy, and this compulsion leaked into his work for Ukip – the nearest form of authority and the smaller Daddy.

He used to telephone someone called Roger from in front of a computer with a screen saver of two naked women kissing, lying about what he had done to promote Ukip. He also told me, a journalist, disgusting stories about Nigel Farage that I cannot publish because they are libellous.

When I complained about the pornographic screen saver and said it was damaging to his small son, he apologised with damp eyes and replaced it with a photo of a topless woman with her hand down her pants.

It was sex, not politics, that broke us. I arrived on Christmas Eve to find a photograph of a woman lying on our bed, on sheets I had bought for him. That was my Christmas present. He died last year and I do not know how he would have coped with the reality of Brexit, of Daddy dying, too – for what would be left to desire?

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