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There’s something tragically moving about Vince Cable’s position

2:23 pm - September 24th 2010

by Paul Sagar    

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Last night’s Question Time showed that anger at the Lib Dems is mounting.

For the first half of last night’s broadcast, Cable repeatedly got it in the neck.

But rather than seeing Cable as a traitor, I would urge a little more nuance. There has been no Jekyll and Hyde transformation. The same exceptionally laudable politician remains – but circumstances dictate he play the devil.

Let’s assume – as seems most likely – that Cable meant all he said pre-May 2010. Like most Lib Dems he assumed he’d never get near power and so could say whatever he liked. Including the truth, something mostly off-limits to those expecting a hand in government. All that stuff about controlling banks, protecting the economy from over-zealous cuts, the myth of pain-free “efficiency savings”, clamping down on tax avoiders and evaders? He almost certainly meant it all.*

But now Cable finds himself not only in government, but subordinated to a dominant Tory party that is acting just as manically as it promised before being elected. A Tory party demanding exactly the opposite of much of what Cable previously advocated.

And at this point, questions of personal integrity arise: should Cable – as a man of purported decency and integrity – consent to working with a rabid Tory party inflicting cuts that will cause widespread social and economic pain?

The answer, I think, is “yes”. Certainly, Cable himself might prefer not to be doing this. That he’d rather have “clean hands” and not be personally responsible for any of the Coalition’s overly-vicious cuts. But the fact is, whatever Cable does now his hands can never be clean.

If Cable were to walk from the Coalition, there would still be consequences pinned to him. For a start, he is the only high-profile non-Conservative member of the Coalition apart from Nick Clegg (now so close to Cameron as to be effectively Tory). Without Cable, the Lib Dems would likely lose even the paltry influence within the Government they currently possess.

And yet, he continues. Not, I would suggest, because of any lust for power. But because Cable exhibits Max Weber’s “calling for politics”.

That is the marking of a “truly moving” politician, who has the “calling for politics”. There is nothing impressive about Tory ideologues cutting spending with glee, complete with disregard for the pain this will cause.

There is, however, something tragically moving about Cable’s position. He deserves your personal respect, even if your political condemnation flows regardless.

I predict that this experience will break Cable; that he will leave office disillusioned and wracked with guilt about what he’s found himself complicit in.

And therein lies another tragedy: that apart from the self-pityingly vainglorious, there is a way in which politics can only break good people.

*In fact I know he did (and here’s a disclaimer) because I did a little bit of work for his office during my 2009 Parliamentary researcher odyssey.

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About the author
Paul Sagar is a post-graduate student at the University of London and blogs at Bad Conscience.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Libdems ,Realpolitik ,Westminster

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Reader comments

1. Man of the People

What makes me laugh is people getting upset by coalition compromises, when serious voting reform would almost inevitably create a permanent state of coalition.

If you like your party politics more cut and dried, keep FPTP.

No there isn’t.

He just needs to curb his vanity and stop believing his own “Vince saw it all coming” publicity.

Well this rather reminds me of the original reason why the Lib Dems topped up the tories vote rather than allowing them a minority government: that despite probably looking unpopular, this should not disuade a Liberal Democrat presence in the government – much like saying, we’re not in this for the popularity, but we want to change Britain yada yada.

This is going to happen to Cable earlier than most Lib Dems, his popularity will fall – though apprently this is not the case according to the other Vince article on the LibCon news thread – but it’s all been worth it because he wants to help overcome the bitter problems we face.

I think, judging by his conference speech yesterday, he is rather more conservative than the Conservatives are. I don’t necessarily think he has sold his soul because he is complict in crimes committed by the Conservative Party, but that he is complicit in crimes committed by people ideological driven to make everyones lives a fucking misery.

“I predict that this experience will break Cable; that he will leave office disillusioned and wracked with guilt about what he’s found himself complicit in.”

I predict that the experience will cause Cable to start believing in what he’s now saying. Dispositions change awfully quickly when one’s social situation dictates (pace Bourdieu). The easiest way to cure his cognitive dissonance, while forced to continue promoting awful Tory policies will be to begin believing that they are the right course of action. Just as with Blair becoming increasingly (manically) vehement in believing that he “had to do it” and he was “doing the right thing” that “Saddam was a threat” etc as the evidence against all these claims piled up, Cable will likely start sincerely believing that the cuts are absolutely necessary just as Clegg (and I suspect, increasingly, a lot of Lib Dems) has done.

Last night’s Question Time showed that anger at the Lib Dems is mounting.

Not so. Liverpool is sui generis.

Vince Cable is a professionally competent economist and his analysis of the economy, markets and politics comes across as informed, candid and interesting – all of which is a great deal more than can be claimed on behalf of virtually anyone else in the HoC: the HoL is another matter.

However, I think he is being encouraged by government communications to act the role of a lightning conductor. His interventions appeal more to the radical elements in his own party and the electorate and the effect is to blunt attacks on government policy. Much criticism is admittedly due to bankers but there are more pressing issues in current economic policy to deal with than bankers’ bonuses, which can be left to await the report of the Banking Commission, chaired by Sir John Vickers.

Paul’s article above is arrant nonsense.

Vince Cable, like Nick Clegg recognised that following the indecisive result of the election and because of the ballooning deficit the country was facing a crisis of monumental proportion and the need for a coalition government in the national interest far outweighed petty party rivalries.That is why he is prepared to work with the Tories and to see it as ‘tragic’ reflects more the sour grapes of the writer at backing a party no longer in power.

We lost,get over it.If you and others don’t take on board the lessons to be learnt, there is no chance of building a base to regain power in 5 years time.Kicking the Lib Dems, although emotionally satisfying is just plain daft and a poor strategy for Labour to adopt.

I take Vince at his word.His commitment to adhere to the coalition agreement despite the occasional personal conflicts it creates is not tragic but heroic because he believes it’s what is best for the nation. Both Tories and Lib Dems have had to give way on much treasured policies.That is the nature of Coalition government based upon the need to compromise.

Is Vince not just a classic populist?

I mean he spent a lot of time attacking Brown and Labour’s stalinist tendancy to take too much control of every area of the economy.

Then when the banking crisis came along he spent a lot of time attacking Brown and Labour’s free-market zeal for not taking enough control of the economy.

Likewise in the speech that has got him lots and lots of attention yet again

He ranted about bankers being greedy but offered no solution and knows he is impotent on such matters.

He also ranted about unions being communists but offered no example of their being so and knows he is impotent on such matters.

He basically plays the media well, and plays the mob well, but does nothing of practical value with that influence.

9. Kevin Boatang

Was Chief Economist for Shell, massively exploiting Nigeria while he was there.

Has received ‘ad hoc’ advice from PwC since the end of 2009, worth upwards of 78k.

Has effectively employed Stephen Green, form top bod of HSBC and major cause of the whole meltdown. One time employer of a man on 35 million a year.

And you call him a “laudable politician”. I would call him a massive hypocrite. There is nothing laudable about Cable, he is a populist of the orange wing who is cultivating the SDP factions at conference.

10. margin4error

Thanks heavens for that Kevin. I feared I really was the only one.

@4 ‘Dispositions change awfully quickly when one’s social situation dictates (pace Bourdieu) ‘

Yes, Ive often thought that the media needs a ‘Liberal’ voice to act as a kind of pundit in news programmes about the key issue of the day.

Prior to Vince’ was the ‘Gravitas’ and deep respect the media had for Menzies ‘foreign policy’ Campbell, which vanished pretty sharpish once he became leader.

The media was not interested in Cables numerous U-turns and having it both way populism during the credit crunch because thats not why he was in the studio.
Now he is the govt its different.

Troll “He just needs to curb his vanity and stop believing his own “Vince saw it all coming” publicity.”

Priceless… ….The vainest troll on here, and a rather stupid one at that… projecting. HA HA HA

Like the rest of his party, Cable forgot the old adage – if you sup with the devil you should use a long spoon.

And I should have used my specs when I posted, I meant to refer to@7

So he’s still St Vince, then? What rubbish! Like all LibDems he was happy to appear wishy-washy to be elected. He had a nice, safe seat. Its easy to be some indefinable in-betweeny when the electorate hate the other parties. Perfect for getting the vote of those concerned but well-off dinner party chatterers and undecideds.

St. Vince has skeletons in his closet from his time in Nigeria. It is simply not credible that someone as senior as he was had no idea of what was going on. Besides, are we to take it that this great statesman could not read the papers and talk to people in Nigeria and elsewhere and not pick up the signs? If he couldn’t how could someone with so little perspicacity be suitable for anything in government?

I am deeply sceptical of this man and the construct he presents to the world. He is, I think, a liar and a hypocrite of the worst sort, hiding behind a pretence of virtue.

Oh, and didn’t he make some horribly pompous speech about the 40-minute threat in the dodgy dossier encouraging Parliament to back Blair’s plans for war? Please correct me if I’m wrong.


If Cable had an ounce of decency he would resign in protest at the cuts and actually make a difference. All he is doing now is providing Cameron’s manic rightwing policy with credibility.


are all words which spring to mind…


Thanks for reading my post, noting I’d anticipated a certain criticism and pre-empted it, then responding to that rather than simply spouting the very point I’d made an effort to anticipate.

No. He will not be forgiven.

He has followed the same formula as Clegg. He has seen his chance for a ministerial car and exciting final chapter in his soon-to-be-written next book. He’s taken both with glee and sod the people who voted for him.

I don’t despise Cable for being in Coalition. I despise him for the cowardice he has shown in denouncing all he said before and publicly stating that Gideon + the Tories are right on everything.

The fact you worked for him has obviously given you a personal view of the man. Most of us don’t have that insight. That’s why we’re left with the image he wants to project to the Nation.

That of a turncoat reeking of hypocrisy.

I wonder what the comments would have been if labour had taken power with the liberals, Plaid and the SNP. The Liberals are hero for standing by labour during these hard time of fiscal cuts.

The hate for the Tories?, I no longer hate the Tories, funny old world.

Paul Sagar

Having tried to pre-empt Natacha’s view, and having written an article with the ultimate aim of doing just that – doesn’t mean you succeeded.

Your rosey view of Vince glosses over his contemptable populism, his utterly contemptable past, and offers no indication he does anything in the coalition other than serve as a figleaf for a rabidly small state regressive agenda that he himself actually largely supports.

Even the speech that got him in the papers so much this week was a tory speech. It was reviewed, ammended, and signed off by David Cameron.


It would be a rather different story as

1 – they would have been serving in a government that went a lot closer to their own manifesto
2 – it would not have required them to pretend to be left wing to appease some members and voters while being very very right wing.
3 – it would have been a proper coalition with several strong influences having their say – rather than a Labour government propped up by the acquiescense of another party. (Several parties in a coalition makes it less easilly dominated by one party than the two party coalition we have now)

#21 Margin4eror

There were several reasons that a grand coalition was a non starter.

Any deal would have to start with labour admitting they were responsible for the economic mess of the UK and the horrendous deficit and debts. As we know they are still in denial.

Unless labour would have been willing to admit they were responsible for ignoring so many of the basic economic fundamentals and had sold the economy out for political power, the libs would have been defending labour shocking record. The whole Brown saved world thing was embarrassing, (even Darling came out and said Brown was in so much denial, and there is only so much you can blame the banks for government economic mismanagement.

The other problem was labour had not leader in place to take over from Brown and Clegg had said he would not work with Brown as leader (after Brown apparently lied to Clegg over the expenses scandal as Brown tried to sweep it under carpet as we know). How can you seriously go into a coalition deal not knowing who is the leader of the largest party of that coalition. The country would have been waiting for months until Ed Milliband was elected, before the country would know the prime minister.

By going forward with Brown as leader into the election labour handed power to the tories. They made a coalition deal almost impossible.

Brown also had a hatred of the snp in Scotland that would have made any deal very difficult as he never got over the snp being elected to the Scottish government and spend the 2yrs just being vindictive to Scotland as a result.

Also regarding the cuts the problem is labour have left a situation where the interest rates payments on the debt is expected to hit a figure over 70billion more than education and transport put together. A progressive government should be spending money on public services not servicing debt for previous irresponsible economic mismanagement.

The choice is a little more spending now and create more debt meaning less spending on public services down the line as so much goes to paying interest ont the silly levels of debt. And that is before the pfi debt and unfunded public sector pensions liabilities are taken into account as they have been hidden off balance sheet.

In truth it will always be very difficult to be progressive when we have had such irresponsible economic mismanagement by the previous government. Were doomed.

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    There’s something tragically moving about Vince Cable’s position

  2. Liberal Conspiracy

    There’s something tragically moving about Vince Cable’s position

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    There’s something tragically moving about Vince Cable’s position /via @libcon

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