3 Feb 2012

Is Clegg anointing his heir?

Is Ed Davey now the man to watch in the Lib Dems? Nick Clegg has long had no obvious heir. There are Orange Book true believers with ambition, but Danny Alexander, Treasury Chief Secretary, has a tricky seat to hold and a limited popular base to work from.

David Laws wouldn’t want the job. Vince Cable would not be seen as a true believer by the Cleggites and is now 69. He would only take the job by acclamation uncontested and that probably wouldn’t happen. Chris Huhne held on to the view that he was still a viable (3rd time lucky) candidate a lot longer than others did. But even if he cleared his name, the activists’ low-key reaction to his “we’ll have to Tea Party here” Tory-bashing speech at the last Lib Dem conference suggested to me that the air had already gone out of his support.

Ed Davey isn’t anything like a household name. He entered the Department of Energy and Climate Change this afternoon to press shouts of “can you fill Huhne’s shoes.” He looked nervous, as well he might. Inside DECC some worry that he’ll find it hard to fend off George Osborne at the Treasury and keep his own Tory ministers under control. But one Lib Dem former MP just suggested to me that this was like John Major’s rise, everyone looking elsewhere at the current big beasts while a new one climbs up the pole. One Lib Dem close to Nick Clegg just described Ed Davey as “very, very, very respected” (don’t know why he didn’t say it four times really).

David Laws’ expected promotion is being saved for the main reshuffle, with a central, cross-department role being shaped for him. Wisely, the Lib Dem top team worked out that this was not the best setting as reshuffles go for reviving a career that was knocked back over expenses.

The first Nick Clegg heard yesterday morning about the CPS announcement coming today was when an aide saw it on Sky News. Chris Huhne hadn’t passed on the information even though he’d been given 24 hours’ notice. But that was because Mr Huhne thought he wasn’t meant to tell anyone. Nick Clegg spoke to Chris Huhne last night by phone and again this morning, telling him in private what he said in public, that there was definitely a place for him back at the top table if he cleared his name.

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