Heavens to Betsy, Vince is an angry man, isn’t he? He wants to run over bankers, despises his coalition partners and seems to think anyone who owns a big house should be punished for it.
Obviously, as his former opponent, none of this surprises me, but having had the benefit of watching his performance with my professional (rather than political) hat on over the last year, I believe now is the time to let him snipe and whinge from the side-lines.
The reasons for this are essentially twofold, which I’ll explain below.
1. Vince Cable has not delivered
Short of being Chancellor of the Exchequer, Vince was given his dream job in the cabinet in May 2010 – Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. He could use his so-called “visionary” knowledge of economics to get Britain’s economy back on track by boosting private sector enterprise and making Britain a world-class hub for higher-level skills. On both counts he has flunked.
In the year that he has been Secretary of State, he has not yet come out with a strategy, or dare I say it, a “business plan” for Britain. He has focused too much on bashing the financial services sector and not enough time growing the rest of the economy. This is shameful, given our economic situation.
During the 2010 election campaign, I was asked at a hustings what I would do and I said that as a top-level strategy, the Government should focus on growing the following industries:
Tourism: particularly given the strong Pound, Britain has never been cheaper and it is a fantastic way to get foreign money in to our economy and help smaller businesses such as museums and B&Bs as well.
Pharmaceuticals: we already have world-class businesses located here and should be offering tax breaks for medical breakthroughs in the UK.
Value-added Manufacturing & Innovation: I don’t care if widgets are produced in China, but the value-add assembly, design and innovation should take place here in the UK.
High-Tech: We are only second to Silicon Valley in terms of our concentration of Software and Hardware businesses in places like Cambridge and the M3 and M4 corridors. Given the nature of the industry, they do not need to be focused in the South-East of England and centres of excellence could be created in other parts of the UK as well to spread the wealth.
Creative Industries: Britain is the most respected place in the world for both media (films, advertising and theatre), as well as production (digital media, creative production and filming). We have fantastic locations, highly skilled staff and a product that can be exported in many cases at the touch of a button with minimal cost.
In order to deliver on just this basic plan, we need to have the skills and the business-friendly environment to make it happen. Cable was in a golden place to deliver on this, given that Universities sit within his prevue as well as business regulation.
Yet, rather than create a joined-up plan to deliver, he botched University reform in a way that has fundamentally undermined both Britain and his own party.
I support tuition fees, but not in the format they’re in now. It seems ludicrous that the reforms we have essentially mean that someone doing an academic degree pays the same fees as someone doing, for example, a golf studies degree. The reforms should have enabled Government and (tax relieved) Private-Sector scholarships and/or sponsorship of vital academic degrees such as Engineering, Physics, Medicine, Economics, Maths, Biology, Chemistry and Computer Sciences. These degrees are our future and with China and India literally pumping out millions of graduates in these subjects every year, the state should be assisting world-class technical excellence.
Over a year after the election, there is not even a hint of a positive plan – in a private sector business, this would not be acceptable, and it is Britain that is suffering as a result.
2. Vince Cable is not a team player
I actually don’t really care whether he hates the Tories – that’s his right. He’s a left-leaning Liberal and was never going to be a perfect fit in a Tory-Liberal coalition. I do, however, expect him to be both professional and constitutional. I believe in collective Cabinet responsibility and time after time Cable has shown complete disregard for the principle.
He threatened to abstain from his own department’s tuition fee vote, for which he has let Nick Clegg take the heat, and made extraordinary claims to the Telegraph journalists about bringing down the government.
He has form in this area as well – he was instrumental in forcing Charles Kennedy to resign through his round-robin letter to the Parliamentary LibDem party, is widely thought to have been behind Menzies Campbell’s resignation and is now part of the “holy trinity” of high-profile rebels (together with Simon Hughes and Chris Huhne) undermining his own party leader.
This may have worked in opposition, but in government is unacceptable. The LibDems have always wanted proportional representation, a system that in my view, would lead to coalitions after nearly every election. The behaviour of Cable is hardly a ringing endorsement for such a system, if he cannot accept the responsibilities as well as the privileges of power.
Cable has had a good run at it and has been given more chances than any Tory would have in the circumstances. His unwillingness or inability to deliver is entirely down to him. For the sake of our long-term economic growth and political stability over the next Parliament, I believe he should be allowed to vent his spleen from the backbenches. He is a spent force – Cameron has nothing to fear from cutting the Cable.