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21 March 2010

Vince for chancellor!

Cable fever sweeps Westminster -- and the country.

By James Macintyre

Suddenly, he’s everywhere! The first I heard about the Vince Cable mania this morning was from a text message, sent by a friend who is not political in the Westminster-obsessive sense, but whom I have always regarded a litmus test for floating voters, and who has long felt that Cable connects in a way that other politicians don’t.

“Vince for chancellor!” it read excitedly.

Turn to the Observer, and there is that elusive glittering prize in journalism: a copper-bottomed real story. The paper reports that Cable has been questioned by Nicholas Macpherson, permanent secretary to the Treasury, about the Lib Dems’ “priorities” for economic policy.

Cable himself has added “legs” to the story by declaring himself “ready” to serve as chancellor.

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As if that weren’t enough, the newspaper comment pages are full of it, too, the headline above John Rentoul’s column in the Independent on Sunday advising “For Cable as chancellor, vote Labour”, and Peter Watt in the Mail on Sunday predicting that one of the few good things to come from a Gordon Brown victory would be Cable at the Treasury.

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Now, this blog would not want to pour cold water on an idea that seems to have caused genuine excitement, and not just in Westminster. But it should be noted that a top mandarin asking the Lib Dems how they might seek to influence policy is not the same as him being “invited” to be chancellor — yet. Because, after all, that invite would have to come from Labour or the Tories.

Intriguingly, although I wrote last week that a Lib-Tory coalition is implausible, inviting Cable into a Cameron cabinet would certainly solve what many outside and inside the Tory party regard as the George Osborne problem. Were Cable to serve under Cameron, however, both men would risk alienating and splitting their very different parties.

Meanwhile, were Brown to make Cable chancellor, he would doubtless enrage his old friend Ed Balls, not to mention Alistair Darling, who has emerged with such dignity from the internal and external battles of the past two years.

Cable for chancellor? (Very) nice idea, but I fear it ain’t gonna happen.