‘There’s no money left’: note left for David Laws

Liam Byrne and David Laws

But was the outgoing Treasury minister Liam Byrne really 'just joking'?

BY Jack Bremer LAST UPDATED AT 18:52 ON Mon 17 May 2010

There was confusion today over whether a short letter written to his successor by Labour's outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury was written in jest or not. Liam Byrne left a note to David Laws which said: "Dear chief secretary, I'm afraid there is no money. Kind regards ­ and good luck! Liam."

Laws (above right), one of five Lib Dem MPs appointed to David Cameron's coalition Cabinet, told reporters about the letter at a press conference today.

It is a convention for an outgoing minister to leave a note for their successor containing one or two useful tips on how to settle into their new job.

Said Laws: "When I arrived at my desk on the very first day as chief secretary, I found a letter from the previous chief secretary to give me some advice, I assumed, on how I conduct myself over the months ahead."

Unfortunately, said Laws, the one-sentence letter proved "slightly less helpful" than he had been expecting.

Byrne (above left) insisted afterwards that the note was meant to be taken lightly. "My letter was a joke, from one chief secretary to another," he said. "I do hope David Laws's sense of humour wasn't another casualty of the coalition deal."

Some political correspondents with longer memories recall a similar note left in October 1964 by the outgoing Tory Chancellor, Reginald Maudling, to James Callaghan, who was Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson's first Chancellor.

That one read: "Good luck, old cock ... Sorry to leave it in such a mess."

But other Westminster observers made the point that Byrne has a history of idiosyncratic note-writing. When he was first appointed to Gordon Brown's Cabinet in 2008, he issued civil servants with a set of instructions entitled 'Working with Liam Byrne'.

The instructions included his coffee requirements - "I like a cappuccino when I come in, an espresso at 3pm and soup at 12.30-1pm" - and specified in what font size his briefing notes should be presented. Finally, Byrne warned his staff: "Never put anything to me unless you understand it and can explain it to me in 60 seconds."

None of which sounded very funny to Byrne's staff at the time.

Gary Gibbon, political editor of Channel 4 News, claimed today that Alistair Darling had also left a note for his replacement, George Osborne. Gibbon claims he left a note, a bottle - but no revolver. · 

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