Monday, October 03, 2016

David Laws should have burnt Liam Byrne's letter



The infamous letter which Liam Byrne left for his successor as chief secretary to the Treasury is in the news. (You can read it in the photograph above.)

David Laws, who made it public after coming to office in 2010, is receiving demands that he hand it over from both the Treasury and the National Archives.

I am all for preserving our national heritage, but I can't help feeling it would have been better if Laws had burnt it when he first saw it.

First, there is an established tradition of ministers leaving joking notes for their successors. For instance, in 1964 Reginald Maudling left a note for Jim Callaghan (his replacement as chancellor) saying "Good luck, old cock.... Sorry to leave it in such a mess."

In the light of this, the decision to publish Liam Byrne's note is not an easy one to support.

Second, the publicity given to the note encouraged Liberal Democrat parliamentarians to hammer away with the message that Labour had maxed out the nation's credit card, Once Danny Alexander had replaced Laws, we seemed to have little more to say on economic policy.

This helped produce a political climate that was favourable to the Conservative message and made it harder to suggest an alternative approach.

Third, it came back to haunt us - and David Laws in particular.

Hover over the photograph and you will see that Byrne's letter is being waved by David Cameron and he is doing so in an election meeting at Norton Sub Hamdon - a village in Laws' Yeovil constituency.

There were plenty of seats we lost in 2015 where the splintering of the Lib Dem vote was more a factor than any swing to the Conservatives, but in Yeovil the Tories gained more than 5000 votes between 2010 and 2015.

So there are three good reasons why David Laws should have burnt that blasted letter.

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