Perhaps it was it was the dizzy heights of ‘Clegg-Mania’, but pre-election Vince Cable seemed to be a sound character. Unfortunately that original image has now frittered away following some bizarre stances and statements from the Business Secretary.
From his speech at the Lib-Dem conference, you might be forgiven for thinking the Business Secretary wasn’t very fond of business at all. In fact you could well think that we were well on our way towards Marxian self-destruction of capitalism and that Cable is coming to the rescue.
In what can only have been an attempt to give the Liberal Democrats some kind of distinction from the Conservatives, Cable managed to anger an impressive number of business leaders. What exactly he proposes in place of competition killing capitalism is, like the current Lib-Dem doctrine, rather blurry. To make an anti-capitalist statement and then in the same speech talk of removing obstacles to growth as taught by liberal economics is baffling.
Cable also talks tremendously harshly of the financial sector, but rather than jumping on the banker bashing bandwagon, he appears to be propelling it at high velocity, and he risks heading for a crash. I agree with his sentiment that the UK has vast potential to grow its high-tech and science based industries, but dismissing bankings role in the future of the economy as “been there, done that” is unnecessary and reckless. When it comes to financial services London is arguably the most specialised centre in the world. Why would we turn our back on such a vital industry? Removing crises may never be achieved but changes to the regulatory framework of finance can definitely make them less severe. This mobile industry may leave if squeezed too heavily; for all his anti-banking rhetoric, Sarkozy would welcome the financial firms to Paris with open arms and tax-breaks.
Another odd move by Cable has been the proposed graduate tax. The Lib-Dems used to pride themselves on their anti-tuition-fee stance, and it was a cornerstone policy for attracting younger voters. Abandoning that policy and replacing it with, essentially, a system of personally paying more towards a degree seems a perverse reversal. This U-turn can only be met with bemusement when only a few months ago they were still mentioning eventual removal of tuition fees.
The best way to sum up the actions of the Business Secretary would be, peculiar. He could learn a lot from his far more politically aware predecessor Lord Mandelson.