Vince Cable: a populist, not a Marxist


2:51 pm - September 22nd 2010

by Dave Osler    


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Political theory does have a name for ritual rhetorical denunciation of fats cats and the labour movement alike, in the name of standing up for the little guy. It’s called populism, it is generally considered an ideology of the right, and it was the only –ism that the business secretary was retailing in his speech to the Lib Dem conference today.

Not that you’d know it from the hysterical reaction to the advance text of Vince Cable’s oration, which has been denounced by several commentators as an attack on capitalism.

Cable himself was backfooted to the extent where he was forced to deny any Marxist intent. He was even at pains to insert an additional reference to Adam Smith in the speech as delivered.

Yet look at what Cable actually said.

There was, for example, an ignorant swipe at the alleged ‘Trotskyite fantasies’ of Bob Crow. This is, for starters, factually incorrect. It is common knowledge among those who care to discover the political proclivities of trade union leaders that Crow is not a Trot. But why let the facts get in the way of playing to the commuterland gallery with a spot of union-bashing?

In case anyone missed the point, he went on purposefully to conflate trade unions with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, a gag that reveals an unmistakeable but disgraceful contempt for democratic organisations pledged to protest against progressive austerity.

There was talk, too, of keeping prices down for consumers and maintaining a level playing field for small businesses. This was a direct appeal for support from the middle class, many of whom are about to suffer directly from the devastation that the Coalition is about to inflict on the welfare state.

Nor, I suspect, will bankers be that bothered about being branded gamblers and spivs. After all, City Boys are not known as sensitive souls. If they get to hang onto their bonuses, they will be laughing all the way to the banks. The banks that we own, but still pay out the huge bonuses they demand.

What we heard from Cable today was little more than an arse-covering exercise for the administration of which he is a constituent part, in the hope of deflecting Middle England anger, should it arise in the next period.

It was Tea Party politics, dressed up with the sophistication of a PhD-trained economist who cannot possibly be mistaken for Christine O’Donnell. There is nothing for the Daily Mail not to love, let alone anything for the Daily Telegraph to fear.

After all, verbal assaults on wide boys are meaningless unless matched with a practical programme for wealth redistribution in favour of the poor. Only when that happens will I have Cable pegged for any kind of leftie.

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About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Lib-left future ,Libdems ,Westminster

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Reader comments


IMO it’s worth comparing Vince Cable’s speech at the LIbDem conference with the recent speech of Lord Turner, chairman of the FSA:

Stop bashing bankers’ bonuses, says FSA chief, Lord Turner
http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/sep/21/fsa-chief-bonuses-executive-pay

Alternatively, try this interview of Turner by Robert Peston, the BBC’s business editor:

Adair Turner: Time to stop ‘demonising’ bankers
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11386464

FWIW I think that Turner’s switch of emphasis to the need for regulatory reform is likely to prove more constructive than continuing to go on about bankers. But regulatory reform – with or without future restrictions on bankers’ bonuses – will not resolve our current problem of an unsustainable budget deficit alongside a faltering economy.

Agree with every single word.

“After all, verbal assaults on wide boys are meaningless unless matched with a practical programme for wealth redistribution in favour of the poor. Only when that happens will I have Cable pegged for any kind of leftie.”

Amen to that. I have a feeling you’re in for a long wait though Dave!

Though come to think of it…who IS going to come up with a practical programme for wealth distribution in favour of the poor? Looks like the choice is between the Big Society from the coalition, and who knows what from the Labour party.

True that

Probably from a slightly different perspective than Dave Osler I have never got the Cable appeal. He made a couple of decent points a few years ago but he has been a populist for the best part of the last two years. Nothing new to see here he has always been a populist.

Outside Lit Crit Marxism’s a dead project so calling anyone actually working in economics a Marxist makes as much sense as calling Stephen Hawking an astrologer.

Osler’s right though, that Cable’s a populist. Denouncing ‘fat cats’ and unions alike as if they were equally responsible for the current crisis is an attempt to position himself in the ‘middle’ but there are far more union members than fat cats so he is effectively positioning himself on the Blairite right.

Why is keeping consumer prices low a sop to the middle class but raising VAT an attack on the poor?

Vince made a sensible speech which the media fell over itself to misinterpret (the interview on Sky news is embarrassingly bad) in which he simply points out the obvious that capitalism doesn’t work (for any but a small few) without fair competition.

Commentators unable to see beyond a private sector vs. public sector fistfight might want to note that corporate monopoly is as much a tool of oppression as an authoritarian state and the liberal position is to oppose both.

Well done Vince, if your leader was a sensible as you, we would not have to worry.

You are dead right about modern capitalism. Capitalists hate competition, and they buy off politicians to get rigged markets. That is the tory way. Always has been.

That’s a painfully bad review of his speech, and makes me wonder how much you know about Adam Smith and free markets. You also fall hook line and sinker for the medias bad interpretation of his speech. He took the piss out of the marxist angle, as it was ludicrous to begin with. Cable’s managed to set out actions that warm my progressive heart, and ones that Labour members should like if they weren’t being so tribalist at the moment.

As to the union bashing, he called out one of the worst people in the unions, while also calling out the bankers. You don’t have to either be with the tories or with Labour as so many seem to think. You can think both sides are bad, for different reasons.

No surprise that his speech was badly represented by Sky. Murdoch is a great example of everything that is wrong with capitalism. His firm have been doing sweetheart deals with politicians for year’s and now they are all terrified of upsetting him.

If the media has no say in elections ( as we are always told by, said media and right wing loons) then why do so many politicians spend all their time begging Murdoch to be nice to them?

Cable should refuse to allow Murdoch to buy Sky outright, and if necessary the Lib Dems should pull down the whole govt over the issue.

11. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells

The tories have just given away £6bn to Vodafone, that’s more ‘Marxist’ than anything Cable could ever hope to implement.

Not sure I agree with you. He did attack both the Unions and the Bankers, but it won’t bother either.

And beyond speeches, what is actually propsing to do?

A storm created to make him look tough I think, but precious little will change.

@9

Nice idea Sally.

Labour died of suffocation after getting its head stuck in Murdoch’s arse. The Tories do better, being more used to the environment.

But wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a political party kicking it rather than kissing it?

“After all, verbal assaults on wide boys are meaningless unless matched with a practical programme for wealth redistribution in favour of the poor.”

By taking low paid people out of direct taxation, for instance?

Like the Libdems are?

And the comrades didn’t in?

It is common knowledge among those who care to discover the political proclivities of trade union leaders that Crow is not a Trot

He’s a Leninist isn’t he? I can’t see that makes him much better, and for those of us not into the fascinating internecine warfare of the extreme left, it’s all a bit Judean Peoples’ Front.

A dreadful article really.
It is good to see that a government minister has a strong critique of capitalism and put this on the political agenda in a way that none of the Labour leadership candidates have managed to do so far.
It is clear that Vince Cable intends to fight his corner but of course the decisions made the government are not his alone. He will be constrained as Robin Cook was within New Labour. Thats politics of course.

This article seems tinged with the same lack of consideration as most of the news coverage. The idea that you have to be either a marxist or a populist to see capitalism as full of flaws and contradictions, seems a rather limited appriasal. It was Ted Heath who decribed some economic practices as the ‘unacceptable face of capitalsim’ and a lot of current tory thinking (well, at least the influential Philip Blond) is scathing of the Thatcherite economic model (or the Anglo-American model as Gordon Brown liked to call it during the boom years) that Labour followed during their term in office, albeit with some moderating actions to paper over the worse excesses. The strange thing is that any critical comments on capitalism gerts such a hysterical response after 13 years of labour government. It reminds us that New labour not only said zilch about sociallism but also nothing critical of capitalism, accept relunctantly after the ‘spiv’ bankers had pulled the western economies to the brink. Vince Cable is clearly a pro market centrist who sees the vested intersts of both left (militant unions) and right (casino capitalists) as destructive of econmic healh and democracy. Not neccesarily my position but a least Cable is a voice that has raised these problems. He will of course be deemed either a ‘populist’ or a radical by his actions over the next 5 years . I will be interested to see how far he gets.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Vince Cable: a populist, not a Marxist http://bit.ly/dzFa9A

  2. Robot J. McCarthy

    Communist Roll'd RT @libcon Vince Cable: a populist, not a Marxist http://bit.ly/dzFa9A

  3. sunny hundal

    Vince Cable: a populist, not a Marxist http://t.co/QJY2i4x – spot on, by @davidosler

  4. Robot J. McCarthy

    Stalin's harvest RT @sunny_hundal Vince Cable: a populist, not a Marxist http://t.co/QJY2i4x – spot on, by @davidosler

  5. Adam Burrows

    RT @sunny_hundal: Vince Cable: a populist, not a Marxist http://t.co/QJY2i4x – spot on, by @davidosler

  6. Adam Burrows

    I pretty much agree with this. http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/09/22/vince-cable-a-populist-not-a-marxist/

  7. Hughes de Payens

    RT @sunny_hundal: Vince Cable: a populist, not a Marxist http://t.co/QJY2i4x – spot on, by @davidosler

  8. Robot J. McCarthy

    What Zedong? RT @BloodRedSounds I pretty much agree with this. http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/09/22/vince-cable-a-populist-not-a-marxist/

  9. Nick Hider

    RT @libcon Vince Cable: a populist, not a Marxist http://bit.ly/dzFa9A > Like most Lib Dems, Cable has contempt for trade unions

  10. andychannelle

    RT @sunny_hundal: Vince Cable: a populist, not a Marxist http://t.co/QJY2i4x – spot on, by @davidosler

  11. andychannelle

    RT @sunny_hundal: Vince Cable: a populist, not a Marxist http://t.co/QJY2i4x – spot on, by @davidosler

  12. Robot J. McCarthy

    Duck and Cover! RT @mattleys Vince Cable: a populist, not a Marxist http://bit.ly/couTkI Excellent piece, via @sunny_hundal

  13. Vince Cable: Capitalism’s poster boy « Though Cowards Flinch

    […] political jargon, bashing the banker might be called ‘populism’. And this, as Dave Osler points out, is exactly what Vince Cable is playing at […]

  14. Dave Pardoe

    RT @libcon: Vince Cable: a populist, not a Marxist http://bit.ly/dzFa9A

  15. Liberal Vision » Blog Archive » Vince Spart rides again

    […] What to say about about Vince’s speech that hasn’t already been said after forensic text analysis and critiques by right and left. […]

  16. In a complex world… « New Politics Review

    […] Vince Cable: a populist, not a Marxist (liberalconspiracy.org) […]





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