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28 June 2010

Have the Lib Dems got a real voice in government?

The key lies in the jobs that they hold.

By James Macintyre

In the course of conversations for a piece on the coalition in this week’s New Statesman, one observer made the claim that the Lib Dems lack influence on the coalition because of the nature of the jobs that they are in.

The theory is that Nick Clegg’s decision not to hold a ministerial brief could backfire. Clegg was compared to William Gladstone when he outlined a range of constitutional reform proposals last month. Yet the exact nature of those reforms remains unclear, and he has since been dubbed “minister for foreign languages”, a reference to his role as a sort of multilingual ambassador for the coalition abroad under William Hague, the Foreign Secretary.

Then there is Chris Huhne, who, as Secretary of State for Energy, appears to be charged with foisting nuclear power on his party. This for a man who, incidentally, opposed Trident during his leadership campaign against Nick Clegg in 2007.

Danny Alexander is highly able and intelligent, but critics claim he is nervous and less assured in the spotlight than his predecessor as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws.

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Some sources also claim that Vince Cable has been “muzzled” by both David Cameron and Clegg from speaking out across economic affairs by having been given the specific post of Business Secretary. They also argue that he is “locked in” to defending the unpopular elements of the coalition’s agenda.

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This may all be a little unfair. But when there is a reshuffle, the Lib Dems might want to push for a more influential position in this government.