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Radical Bulletin 336 – November 2009
07 November 2009 (19:09:36)

THE HALO SLIPS

For many months it seemed that shadow chancellor Vince Cable could do no wrong. The Lib Dem who foresaw the recession and the need for bank nationalisation had been proved right about enough things that his standing among the public was sky high, and easily exceeded that of leader Nick Clegg.

By the end of conference that stature was somewhat diminished, partly due to Cable’s over-confidence and partly due to people around Clegg leaping to the erroneous conclusion that, if less was heard of Cable in public, correspondingly more would be heard of Clegg.

Cable had spent the summer trying to find budget cuts that the Lib Dems could present as the way in which they would cut public spending while still achieving virtuous ends.

This did not of course go down well with those shadow cabinet members who aspire to run spending ministries, and few were prepared to volunteer much for Cable’s axe.

Children, families and schools shadow secretary David Laws went so far as to declare in public that Cable had assured him his budget would be safe, in an attempt to bounce Cable into accepting this.

In other cases, the process worked in reverse, with an exasperated Cable announcing initiatives in areas overseen by recalcitrant shadow ministers in an attempt to bounce them.

The first uproar produced by this occurred when Cable proposed to scrap the £13bn St Athan military training academy in Wales.

This did not go down well with the Welsh Liberal Democrats, who first heard about this proposal from the media and were further offended by an apology in which Cable’s office told them he was unaware the project was in Wales.

Next came the ‘mansion tax’, which was news to shadow local government secretary Julia Goldsworthy when she too first heard of this from the media even though, as something related to council tax, it plainly fell within her brief.

Cable’s idea was that a higher tax would be levied on homes worth more than £1m. Whatever one’s view on local taxation, there is no rational reason to keep the present upper threshold on council tax, which means quite prosperous people pay the same rate as plutocrats.

However, Cable’s decision simply to announce this was a further attempted bounce that caused offence.

As one long-serving MP noted: “The pre-general election conference is a dry run for the general election campaign, when we will all be off campaigning and out of touch with each other, and there has to be a degree of trust that candidates will not be surprised or embarrassed by announcements.” Instead, surprise and embarrassment abounded.

Anger at this erupted at a parliamentary party meeting in Bournemouth, which was overheard by a journalist who adopted the simple expedient of sitting outside the room next to an entrance at the far end from that used by the MPs. With Clegg absent, the assembled MPs went for Cable, on the grounds that they disagreed with him or objected to policy making by pronouncements, or both.

Cable still made a well-received conference speech and probably did himself some favours by resisting a demand from Clegg’s inner circle that he should lace it with references along the lines of “under the leadership of Nick Clegg”. Cable refused all but one of these weird and clunky insertions.

Don’t Clegg’s minders realise that it’s only in North Korea that every speech must contain references to “the wise guidance of our supreme leader”?

Also in Radical Bulletin 336:

  • WHERE POWER LIES
  • HELP, I’VE BEEN SERIOUSED
  • STAY OR GO?
  • EMPTY SEAT
  • UP YOU GET
  • GOOD RIDDANCE

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