This article is from the January 2013 issue of Total Politics.
As a continued supporter of EU membership and integration, an advocate of mansion tax and with a propensity to see the Liberal Democrats’ progressive fingerprints all over the coalition’s few successes, Danny Alexander may seem an unlikely choice for a power position in the Tory-led coalition government. Nevertheless, the chief secretary to the Treasury is a key player in the ominous-sounding ‘quad’, the policy powerhouse that also comprises David Cameron, Nick Clegg and George Osborne, the most senior figures in the cabinet. Though relatively young at 40, Alexander’s position is well earned.
Born in 1972, the Scottish native attended Lochaber High School before reading the inevitable PPE degree at St Anne’s College, Oxford, paving the way for what could only be a future career in politics.
Avoiding being pigeonholed as a ‘career-politician’, as many of his fellow MPs are, Alexander's earlier career was in communications. For eight years he was director of communications for the European Movement, campaigning for a more democratic Europe with Britain at its core. He then went on to become head of communications at Cairngorms national park.
His first real taste of political life came at the age of 33, joining the Department for Work and Pensions as a spokesperson for disability-related issues, after working as a press officer for the Scottish Liberal Democrats. In 2005, Danny Alexander entered Parliament on his first attempt, gaining a Labour swing-seat and becoming the MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey. It was upon the resignation of David Laws, and aged 38, however, that Alexander earned his place in the upper echelons of political society. He was appointed chief secretary to the Treasury in May 2010, securing his position in the ‘quad’.
Since his appointment, Alexander, who refers to himself as “a tax cutter by instinct”, has been eager to put the Lib Dem stamp on economic policy, maintaining their firm position on big issues. In his 2012 conference speech, he admitted that he would like to push the proposed floor on taxable pay from £10,000 to £12,500.
He has been scathing in his attack on the Labour Party and its impact in the crisis, stating: “When we came into office, we knew things were bad. But the truth is, we didn’t know how bad. The damage that the crisis has done to our economy is even deeper than we first thought. The headwinds from high inflation and the eurozone are stronger than anyone imagined. The mess Labour left, worse than they would ever admit – let alone apologise for.” His feelings towards Miliband’s economic policy were coated in much the same scepticism: “Mr Miliband has come out with a new economic theory this month: ‘Predistribution’. Apparently it means spending money you don’t have, without knowing where that money is going to come from in the future.” For his determination and dogged approach to the economy, he has received high praise from the leader of his party, with Clegg expressing that “there is no one better when it comes to getting value for money for the taxpayer”.
Approaching his appointment with an acute of sense of duty, Alexander takes his role particularly seriously. He is acutely aware of the meaning behind the statistics he is constantly presented with: “Every single number on every single page represents somebody's job, or services that people rely on”.
With an apparent sense of confidence in his leadership abilities, he has been placed in charge of a government review on alternatives to the Trident nuclear missile system.
His pastimes include fishing and hill-walking, reflecting his Scottish upbringing and a heritage that has characterised his parliamentary career. His concern for Scottish causes has been evident in his constituency commitments – the establishment of the Coastal Communities Fund, which gave £4m to support the economic development of a wide range of projects is a prime example.
Arriving among the political elite has not meant a loss of self-deprecation. In homage to a remark Harriet Harman made about him in 2010, Alexander has launched a beer named The Ginger Rodent, pointedly reminding both her and the rest of the Labour Party that “rodents do valuable work, cleaning up mess others leave behind”.