08/01/2015 06:51 GMT | Updated 08/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Vince Cable Says He Remains Lib Dem Economic Spokesman

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander (left) and Business Secretary Vince Cable as the Liberal Democrats campaign in Hornsey, north London.
Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander (left) and Business Secretary Vince Cable as the Liberal Democrats campaign in Hornsey, north London.

The Liberal Democrats have said both Vince Cable and Danny Alexander are economic spokespeople for the party, after the business secretary appeared to suggest he, not the chief secretary to the Treasury, held the position.

On Wednesday Nick Clegg confirmed that Alexander would speak for the party on Treasury issues during the course of the election. The role means it will be Alexander, not Cable, who takes part in any debates with George Osborne and Ed Balls.

The decision has been seen as a snub for business secretary Cable, who had held the position since 2003 and took part in debates at the 2010 election. A Lib Dem party source said Cable was "unhappy" with the switch.

And speaking in the Commons today, Cable suggested he was not giving up the job. He told a Tory MP who mocked his apparent demotion: "I remain as our economic spokesman, but that's a minor internal question."

A Lib Dem spokesman said Cable's comments in the Commons were accurate as the Treasury brief and business brief both qualified as economic portfolios. "They're both economic spokespeople," he said. "Both are fundamentally related to the economy."

However Alexander is considered to have "more of the economy" given the relative importance of the Treasury compared to the business department. "Osborne has a bigger sway than Vince in government," the spokesman noted.

Alexander is a key ally of Clegg and is widely seen as the deputy prime minister's preferred choice to succeed him as leader. The job of Treasury spokesman in the campaign will give Alexander the chance to attack the Tories and distance himself from accusations that he is too close to Osborne.

The move is not wildly popular with the grassroots left of the party. Naomi Smith, the chair of the Social Liberal Forum, said Clegg had "given a gift to the Tories on the economy" by appointing Alexander.

She told The Huffington Post on Wednesday: "In a recent Lib Dem Voice survey, 70% of grassroots respondees said they didn't think Danny Alexander should be the Liberal Democrat's Shadow Chancellor. Of those, 65% preferred Vince Cable and 5% wanted 'someone else'. It's not difficult to understand why.

"Activists know how trusted and popular Vince Cable is on the economy. He prophetically predicted the 2007 crisis, perhaps unsurprising given his vast experience. On top of his academic accolades, he was Chief Economist at Shell before entering politics. Danny's economic credentials are more limited, his last job prior to entering politics was Press Officer for the Cairngorm National Park.

"Voters believe Vince when he speaks about the economy because he is authentic - he has consistently called for a deviation from Osbornomics and for greater capital spending. He understood the need to rebalance the economy, away from over dependence on the casino capitalism of the banking sector. Danny on the other hand, has been a Treasury champion, supporting his boss, George Osborne.

She added: "Voters aren't stupid - they won't believe that Danny has suddenly had an about-face on the economy. Liberal Democrat activists know that we mustn't insult voters' intelligence on this issue, and they know that Danny won't be as adept, or as credible, in taking on Osborne during debates. By choosing Danny over Vince, Nick Clegg has once again just given a gift to the Tories on the economy."

As the Lib Dems do not have ministers in every department, Clegg has had to hand some election portfolios to MPs not in government.

Former party president and likely leadership candidate Tim Farron has been given the foreign affairs brief and Sir Nick Harvey, who was sacked as a defence minister by Clegg in 2012, comes back as defence spokesman.