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Iain Dale

I remember interviewing Vince Cable for Total Politics before the last election. I spent 90 minutes with him trying to elicit some sort of interesting line from him. I found him to be the coldest, most unemotional politician I had ever interviewed. We didn’t ‘click’ at all. I found his answers on economic policy to be deeply unconvincing, and left the interview wondering about his reputation as an economic ‘sage’. And frankly on that point I am still wondering.

Many broadcast interviews later, I have found him to be slightly more congenial, even on the odd occasion displaying a well-developed sense of humour but, in four years as Business Secretary, what has he actually achieved? This week, he has come under fire for losing the taxpayer up to £2.3 billion in the Royal Mail privatisation and refused to apologise for it. I understand why. Imagine if he had ignored the advice of his merchant bank advisers and gone for a higher initial share price and the offering had then bombed? Even so, my sympathy is somewhat limited by his failure to ensure that some of the institutional shareholders who were given preference actually held onto their shares as a long term investment.

It’s not just Vince Cable who has some serious questions to answer. It is some of the institutions who took advantage of their privileged position to make a fast buck. But therein lies the quandary for supporters of the Business Secretary. He has talked a lot about the evils of bankers over the last few years, rather ignoring the fact that he is responsible for banking regulation and could easily have done something about it. Instead he has just talked. And talked. And talked some more. Rather than ‘action this day’ he has been the very personification of ‘delay, delay, delay’. And with only a year to go before the LibDems are turfed out of office, hopefully for a very long time, he finds himself running out of time. Cable has been the worst Business Secretary since Stephen Byers. Can any non-Liberal Democrat seriously disagree with that?

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I’ve attended two funerals in the last week. This sort of thing happens when you get to my age. In your twenties, thirties and forties you attend weddings. Once you get to your fifties, the weddings become rarer and the funerals become more frequent. On Thursday it was Tony Benn’s funeral at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, and a day later it was the turn of my friend Corinne de Souza to have her send-off in Brighton.

Both were unique events, but in their own ways both turned out to be very what I have come to term ‘happy-sad’ occasions. Tony’s was a very public event, made intimate by the wonderful tributes paid by three of his children, whose funny and at times very emotional eulogies made many of us shed a tear, as well as laugh heartily. Laughing at a funeral seems very wrong and always makes me feel as if I am misbehaving.

As you would expect, it was a gathering of the left-wing clans, although I was very happy to see the number of Conservative politicians in attendance – Peter Bottomley, Bernard Jenkin and Michael Heseltine were among them. I arrived quite early and sat right at the back. I was delighted to be joined by (Lord) Peter Hennessy, Helena Kennedy and Robert Peston, who had thankfully ditched the red shoes I saw him wearing on Budget Day. I have to admit I left a few minutes before the end. I had spotted that the final act in the service was for us to sing The Red Flag. I’m afraid I draw the line at that. I heard later they sang it twice. In a church!

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I write a monthly column for the gay lifestyle magazine Attitude. Yes, UKIP supporters, how very shocking. I do keep my clothes on though. It’s a sort of GQ for gay men, in case you’ve never read a copy. On Saturday I went to their 20th anniversary party at the Grosvenor House. I fell into conversation with a chap who works for Channel 4. “I couldn’t believe you had stood as a Tory candidate when someone told me,” he said. “You always sound so left wing on the radio.”

This is becoming a trend. I don’t feel I have changed my political views that much, but so many people keep telling me I’m becoming a bit of a leftie that I have tried to analyse how my views have changed. And the truth is that by and large they haven’t. I am still dry as dust on economic issues, but I have always been a bit of a liberal on social issues. I suppose hosting a four hour phone-in each day has brought this part of my political make-up to the fore. I am less of a shock jock, more of an agony uncle. I can empathise with people’s human misery. Just because I agree that the Government is right to reform welfare, that doesn’t mean I can’t empathise with a disabled person who has been treated appallingly by ATOS. Just because I agree that prisoners need to be punished, doesn’t mean that I can’t articulate why I think rehabilitation is just as important as denying someone their freedom.

And part of that rehabilitation is the freedom to read books, isn’t it Lord Chancellor? So yes, I signed the Howard League letter complaining about the fact that prisoners are no longer able to receive books from friends and family. Chris Grayling was displeased with me. But if they’re cooped up for 23 hours a day, surely it’s good for prisoners to have something to occupy them. Yes, prisons have libraries, but libraries often don’t have the range of books most people would want. And surely the freedom to enjoy literature is something which should be open to everyone, not just those of us who aren’t in prison?

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I felt very sorry for the BBC on Wednesday night. Yes, you read that right. How on earth could they follow the original LBC Clegg/Farage debate? I’d have hated to be the producer of their second debate. Sure enough, it was very much after the Lord Mayor’s show. But both Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage achieved what they wanted to from the two debates, and it was a clever move from Clegg to propose them. I wonder what his next surprise will be. Whatever it is, it doesn’t change a self-evident truth. He and his party are f***ed.

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I don’t know Mark Menzies very well, but on a basic human level you have to feel sorry for him. He may have been the architect of his own political downfall, but how would any of us cope psychologically with having our careers turned upside down by a tabloid expose? I have to say that as a proponent of legalising prostitution I don’t see anything wrong with two consenting adults agreeing a sexually related financial transaction. Mark’s problem is the drugs allegations and he needs to explain or refute. And quickly.

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One of the proudest moments of my life came last July when I was named Radio Presenter of the Year. I’d also been nominated for a Sony. In any field, achieving the recognition of your peers has to be a satisfying moment. Not for a moment did I think it would be repeated this year but, on Wednesday, the Radio Academy put me on the shortlist for Radio Interview of the Year for my interview with James, an eyewitness to the Woolwich murders. LBC got an astonishing 10 nominations, with 5 Live only picking up a couple for their news and current affairs output. It shows how far as a station we have come. Sony don’t sponsor the awards any longer, but everyone still calls them the ‘Sonys’. I just wish my Mum was still alive. Like most sons, all I ever wanted was for her to be proud of me.

62 comments for: Iain Dale: Vince Cable – the worst Business Secretary since Stephen Byers

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