Left Watch

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Meet Labour's attack dog; Vince Cable

Screen shot 2010-03-30 at 12.50.30 Closing statements are strategically vital.  They are the sum of the debater's argument, his case to the voters - his pitch in a nutshell.

Vince Cable's closing statement yesterday evening in the Shadow Chancellor's debate was a emphatic assault on the Conservatives.  He said that the party wants "another chance to get their noses in the trough and reward their rich friends".  Sure, the Liberal Democrat spokesman found time earlier to lay into the Government - after all, he had an hour in which to do it - but the commentators have picked up that for much of the debate it was two-against-one: Darling and Cable V Osborne.

They don't and won't agree about who won.  Did Cable win because he won the most studio applause and good blogging response?  Did Osborne win because expectations of him were low, and the only direction he could go was up - which he did, performing crisply and cooly and (above all) staying remorselessly on-message?  Who knows?  And, in a sense, who cares?  The media will have moved on by the end of the day's news cycle.  (They won't move on so quickly from those coming, pivotal Leaders' debates.)

No, the significance of yesterday's debate is what it told us about the dynamics of a hung Parliament, were the election to produce one.  Cable's background as an ex-Labour man is on the left.  His positioning yesterday showed that his instincts remain there.  And what's true of Cable is true of much if not most of the LibDem Parliamentary Party.  It's impossible to imagine them consenting to a Conservative/Liberal coalition on Tory terms and no easier to see them offering any stable support to a Conservative Government.

Come the Leaders' debates, I expect Clegg to be more nuanced, but what we saw last night was what we'd get in a Parliament with no overall majority: Labour and Lib Dem V Conservative.  So if voters want change, or simply to stave off a market crisis, there's only one choice to make.  We must make this point again and again during the next few weeks, especially in the marginals and as April turns into May.  Last night, Cable was Labour's attack dog in a TV studio.  In a hung Parliament, he'd do the same job on the Commons floor.

Paul Goodman