Thursday, 23 September 2010

Saint Vince of Shell is a Tory Shield - for now...

Saint Vince Cable of Shell (a small eco-friendly, non-corporate business run by environmentalists in Brighton, I think), said yesterday in his keynote speech to Lib Dem Conference:
"On banks, I make no apology for attacking spivs and gamblers who did more harm to the British economy than Bob Crow could achieve in his wildest Trotskyite fantasies, while paying themselves outrageous bonuses underwritten by the taxpayer. There is much public anger about banks and it is well deserved."
This reminds me of  my letter in The Independent of 25 April last year, in which I wrote:
"I wonder what these people would be saying had the economy suffered the worst catastrophe since the Second World War as a result of action by the trade unions, terrorists, or organised criminals. I imagine they would be calling for at the very least punitive and wholesale legislative and criminal sanctions against the perpetrators of such economic destruction, and possibly the declaration of a state of emergency". 
 Vince Cable has form on this subject and as Mark Peston ably analyses, there is a perfectly sound critique to be made of the current pros and cons of modern-day capitalism.  While it is refreshing to hear genuinely radical voices, such as Cable's, speaking from inside the Establishment bunker, I fear that he is being used somewhat.

While I have no doubt that many Orange Book Lib Dems and pretty much all Tories will have winced inwardly at his description of their dinner party guests and (in the cast of the latter) major donors as "spivs and gamblers", there may be a more subtle game at play.  For while the received punditry is that Vince is a thorn in Osborne's side and will probably quit before long, the wiser Tories are probably willing to tolerate his radicalism for the ideological cover it shields them with.  That is not to say that Vince won't jump ship, just that in a perverse way, he helps Cameron et al further detoxify the Tory brand in the eyes of the public. While most people know that Tories have an eternal love affair with big business, the City, hedge funders, etc (just check who funded the private offices of the Shadow Cabinet), they will surely double take upon hearing Vince, perhaps asking themselves, "if Cameron keeps someone like this in his Cabinet, perhaps they really have changed".

But as many have already pointed out, the devil will be in the LACK of detail.  For Vince was short on specifics.  He didn't tell us how he would control the excesses of the City or big business, just that he intended to do so.  Nearly three years after the economic crisis begun, this is surely a less than radical response.  A Vince launching his missives without specificity is tolerable to the Tory (and Clegg Dem) High Command.  If he wishes to move from rhetoric to reality, the story might be very difficult.  City grandees are likely to call in some big favours with their chums in the Tory party and Saint Vince may decide it's time for martydom. 

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