Al Carmicheal, come on down!

One unremarked aspect of the ministerial reshuffle last week was that it makes the new Lib Dem Scottish secretary a very plausible leadership contender.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Alastair Carmichael: X Factor?

For a while now, the scenario's been spun that Nick Clegg's moment of maximum danger will come next year, if his party takes a worse than expected drubbing in the European Parliament elections (and remember that the market has already discounted the prospect of heavy Lib Dem losses then…)

Faced with the prospect of devastation at the next general election, the scenario runs, the Lib Dems seek to change their leader.

After all they ditched first Charles Kennedy, then Ming Campbell during the 2005-2010 parliament.

And the only change they could make that the public would notice would be to install Vince Cable - the business secretary being pretty much the only Lib Dem cabinet minister the general public have noticed - so the party turns its lonely eyes to Vince.

Except that, if, in the wake of next September's Scottish independence referendum, Alistair Carmichael is the Scottish secretary who "saved the union" (with a little assistance from Alistair Darling et al) the public will suddenly notice him as well.

And suddenly the affable Mr Carmichael will have emerged from the shadows of the Lib Dem whips' office, and become a genuine national figure (of course there is the small detail of whether or not the Scots actually vote to remain in the UK - and all bets are obviously off, if they don't).

Mr Carmichael is emphatic and colourful in his insistence that he does not seek the leadership: "I'd rather stick red hot needles in my eyes," he told me.

But I can remember having a similar, if less vivid, conversation with a low-ish profile Lib Dem front bencher, when the murmurings about Ming Campbell began - a certain Nick Clegg.

Über-libertarian Tory Douglas Carswell has long predicted that the Chancellor's economic policies will not end well, and made himself unpopular by describing George Osborne's approach as "continuity Brown".

In particular he's very worried about the Coalition's intervention in the housing market - the Help to Buy scheme.

Just, he says, what Gordon Brown would have done.

Now he's repeating and possibly compounding the offence he's given to the Treasury, by writing a pamphlet, setting out an alternative approach: "After Os-Brown". Geddit?

Food for thought

The hunt is on for a political trencherman (trencherperson?) to officiate at the grand opening of Danczuk's Deli - a new Rochdale eatery to be run by local MP Simon Danczuk, or to be more accurate, by Mrs Danczuk, in The Walk, Rochdale. (Followers of the Danczuk twitter feed will already have been treated to mouth-watering photographs of the family cuisine).

Now bids are in to the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, and to Labour's Lord Prescott… so Mrs D had better stock up.

They know how to deploy a persuasive argument in the House of Lords - accusing the Government of castrating (he used an even more graphic phrase) a mechanism that allowed people to effectively borrow against the value of their home to fund their care in old age.

Growing old

Labour super-wonk Lord Lipsey complained about the small amount of money people would have to have left in their assets, before they could take advantage: "most of them would not feel the least bit happy if they had to spend down till they only had £23,250 in the bank, before they can get help from the deferred payment scheme…

"That hardly pays for the daily delivery of the Racing Post for the rest of their lives, or their nightly gin and tonic…"

A question time exchange in the Lords, on the appointment of Bishops, on Monday, was meant to be about the delay in filling vacancies in various dioceses, partly because (shudder) the posts are now advertised.

One rule for all?

But it soon focused on the lack of women on the Bishops' bench - with the Lib Dem government spokesman, Lord Wallace of Saltaire predicting, with heavy irony, that the first women bishops would be consecrated before the next stage of Lords reform is in place.

Don't hold your breath; that event is pencilled in for the session after the second coming.

But if they have to wait that long, peers (and maybe MPs) might decide to make a few legislative tweaks to pass the time.

For example, Bishops will not fall within the new procedure being proposed in Dan Byles' private members bill in the Commons, which allows all the other members of the House of Lords to be expelled, if convicted of a serious criminal offence, even though they are supposed to be peers for life…

Of course the Bishops sit in the Lords only until they retire, but one noble source wonders if they should be expellable at need - just like everyone else in the chamber.