Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander used a special statement in the House of Commons today to set out what his party would do differently than the Conservatives with an 'alternative' Liberal Democrat Budget. However it did not go to plan.
The Lib Dem cabinet minister had a special yellow Budget box made.
This is a thing that is actually happening pic.twitter.com/ZiQaLuFlCx— Michael Deacon (@MichaelPDeacon) March 19, 2015
The statement did not get off to a good start. Before Alexander stood up, John Bercow intervened to warn the Chief secretary not to push too much of a party political agenda.
"These statements have to be ministerial," The Speaker said. "Delivered not in a personal or a party capacity, but on behalf of the government. Whilst some latitude is of course permitted, there does come a point where using the privilege accorded to ministers for purely party purposes would be unfair to the House."
The Lib Dems have 57 MPs, however only far from all of them appeared to have shown up for the debate. Two of the party's cabinet ministers, energy secretary Ed Davey and Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael appeared to be absent.
Labour MPs, sensing blood, heckled Alexander mercilessly as he spoke, led by Andrew Gwynne. At one point the shadow minister, who was told off for "shrieking" by Bercow, leaned across the Despatch Box to pass Alexander the Budget Red Book. The document is the official Treasury manual detailing yesterday's Budget measures unveiled by George Osborne and supported by the Lib Dems.
When it was his turn to speak, Labour's shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Chris Leslie, attacked Alexander for using the Commons for "party political pleading".
"I thought statements in the House of Commons were supposed to be from ministers speaking collectively on behalf of the government," he said. "He has totally abused that privilege."
Leslie said the Lib Dems were "two faced" for voting for Osborne's Budget at the same time as arguing they would pursue different policies. "They want to have their cake and eat it," he said. "It's too late, Danny, when you have been propping up the Tories for five years." Leslie added, ominously: "It's time for him to pay the ultimate price for his behaviour."
So determined was chief Sec to feel important he had his very own yellow box made & much like his principles sold it off to highest bidder— Angela Eagle (@angelaeagle) March 19, 2015
To make matters worse for Alexander, Labour MPs also reacted with glee when shortly after he stopped speaking, Nick Clegg decided to leave the chamber. Opposition MPs waved goodbye.