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Danny Alexander Presented An Alternative Budget But No One Turned Up

Just 15 other Lib Dems popped along to the big event.

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At some point in the 1990s, Channel 4 got into the habit of broadcasting an alternative Queen's Speech.

The idea was to show that the channel was edgy, different, and willing to stick it to the man – who wants to watch the boring old monarch when you could switch over and let a radical dissident or someone from Wife Swap address the nation?

The problem was, it was normally a bit rubbish.

Danny Alexander tried something similar on Thursday, presenting a Liberal Democrat spending plan to the House of Commons that involved fewer government cuts than the coalition Budget.

This was despite the fact that the chief secretary to the Treasury, who has been at the heart of government for five years, spent Wednesday backing the coalition Budget. Alexander posed in Downing Street beside chancellor George Osborne and the coalition Budget, sat in the House of Commons and supported the coalition Budget, then let his staff confirm they intended to vote for the coalition Budget.

And then he came back to parliament on Thursday, a day after Osborne did a big proper speech on behalf of the whole coalition, and said he didn't really like all of it, in a speech that was effectively I Can't Believe It's Not the Budget.

This is a thing that is actually happening

The idea of this weird display – billed as "unprecedented" by the party – was to show that the Lib Dems are their own people with their own plans.

But it felt more like when a guitar band wins at the Brit Awards: They look a bit embarrassed to be there, sheepishly mumble some words about being grateful to their small but loyal fanbase, then run off the stage.

Alexander explained to the House of Commons that he was presenting "an alternative fiscal scenario" – a Lib Dem take on what the government should do with state spending. This was different to the coalition take on what the government should do with state spending, which was yesterday signed off by the Lib Dems.

Nick Clegg popped in for 10 minutes and then left. Vince Cable stayed for the whole thing but mainly sat around looking wistful, probably thinking of the days when he was the Lib Dems' main economic spokesperson and revered as an oracle who held the answers to fixing our financial system.

The document itself was pretty short.

In total around 16 Lib Dem MPs seemed to have turned out to sit and listen on the government side.

But then it became apparent that one of them was actually Anne McIntosh, disguised in a yellow scarf.

The Labour MPs opposite Alexander decided to see whether they could distract him via a non-stop barrage of low-level chuntering and waving. Valiantly, he pushed on regardless.

At some point he used the phrase "more holes than a Swiss cheese and more holes than a Rubik's cube", and insisted that he didn't want government spending to be reduced to 1960s levels, referencing a TV show called Cathy Come Home that aired at the time.

A Labour MP asked if the Lib Dem minister was aware of a TV show called Pointless, because – ha ha – that's what this entire event reminded her of.

Alexander built up to his big response: "I think 'cashless' might describe the party opposite!"

It's hard to keep your indie cred when you've gone mainstream.

Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Jim Waterson at

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