Posts Tagged ‘Vince Cable’

Scrapping RDAs has made Osborne’s task harder

06/12/2014, 07:27:27 PM

By Kevin Meagher

As the Tories’ main political strategist, George Osborne knows only too well that winning the next election means convincing people they’re getting better off, or soon will be. In the next six months, his task is to make sure the warm rays of economic prosperity are felt across all parts of the country.

Yet as the dust settles on the Autumn Statement, recovery remains stubbornly uneven and tackling Britain’s asymmetric economy, split between a galloping London and South East and, at best, a cantering North and Midlands, looks as forlorn a prospect as it has for the past three decades.

Yet the bodies set up by Labour in 1998 to narrow these deep economic disparities – the nine English regional development agencies – were in coalition ministers’ crosshairs from day one. To Conservative eyes, RDAs were quintessentially old Labour. The state getting involved in promoting economic growth.

While the concept of “regions” was an unwelcome affectation, dreamt up by John Prescott in all his pomp running the sprawling Department of Environment, Transport and Regions.

In fact, David Cameron used his first major speech as prime minister to herald a different approach to driving local growth. It mattered little that the boards of the RDAs were private sector-led. Or that there was strong business support for retaining the northern agencies in particular. Or, indeed, that they were actually succeeding in their task of boosting growth. (In 2009, PriceWaterhouse Coopers calculated that the economic value they generated was equivalent to £4.50 for every £1 of public money invested).

But the RDAs fate was sealed because the Lib Dems didn’t think much of them either. Business secretary Vince Cable suggested scrapping them himself in a paper for the Reform think tank before the 2010 election. So when the “bonfire of the quangos” was lit, the English RDAs were the Guy Fawkes effigy placed right at the top of the pyre.

Since then, ministers have created a total of 39 local enterprise partnerships – effectively mini-RDAs but without the budgets – or the experienced staff – to drive local growth. This disjointed, stop-start approach, just as the economy was going through the bumpy 2010-12 period, was one of the more politically indulgent things the government has done.

And, potentially, one of the more politically costly.


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Balls is no Churchill

03/06/2013, 05:40:13 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Politics, as Churchill said, is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. Much of the theatre of politics exists, however, in the unanticipated events to which Macmillan attributed the failure of political plans. While, to paraphrase Lennon, politics is what happens when you are making other plans, plans are politically necessary and should be attuned to the likely and inevitable.

Political tacticians specialise in events. Political strategists identify trends and plan accordingly. The character of politicians is revealed in their handling of events but they are exposed without convincing strategy. And the strategic context that was obvious from the outset of this parliament was the politics of the deficit.

We might have thought in May 2010 that the government’s economic strategy of tough deficit reduction would fail and the public would then turn to Labour. Perhaps we thought that this strategy would fail, causing the government to adopt the Plan B that Labour called for and the public to conclude that Labour was right all along.

Few seriously thought that things would work out precisely as George Osborne forecast in his hopelessly optimistic 2010 budget. The real debate was always about whether this failure in itself would be enough to return support to Labour.

Unsurprisingly, Osborne has not said: “Ed Balls was always right”. We don’t need the spending review to know, however, that the government is failing. But polling published by Labour List contains scant evidence that this failure builds support for Labour on the economy.

As Osborne scraps around to increase the capital budget and Vince Cable cobbles together the kind of active industrial strategy that he previously denounced, agreement with Balls is implicit in their actions. Government policy inches towards Plan B but recognition that this constitutes a Plan B is politically impossible.


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Clegg not Cable would make the best coalition partner for Labour

07/05/2013, 11:06:09 AM

by Dan McCurry

If Labour are to form a coalition government with the Lib Dems following the next election, then I would rather deal with Clegg than Cable.

I think Vince Cable is trouble. I’m not talking about the right sort of trouble, such as a deep sense of conviction for the need of justice. I mean the wrong sort of trouble, such as being unpredictable, or so anti-capitalist as to be both divisive and ineffective.

What we want from the Lib Dems is to agree on what our policies are and then for both parties to stick to the common line. With Nick Clegg it’s easy to imagine this happening, but with Cable I wonder if it would be so easy.

Maybe it’s that Telegraph sting that bothers me. The one where the journalists flirted with Vince and got him to speak about the “nuclear option”. We greatly enjoyed reading that story at the time, but now I can’t help feeling uncomfortable about the sheer arrogance of someone who fantasises about destroying the government.

Or maybe it’s banking that bothers me? The reason the share price of these banks has stayed so low is due to the fiddling-about of government policy. Mostly quite pointless stuff. This “ring fence” between retail and investment banking has little consensus to it. Besides, it was mortgage lending that caused the crisis not casino stock markets.


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Will Miliband face either Cameron or Clegg at the election?

11/03/2013, 03:24:31 PM

by Jonathan Todd

This weekend the fog of war descended on Brighton, central London and Grantham. It seemed to be thickest in Brighton where the Liberal Democrats met for their spring conference. Some think their enemy are the “self-appointed detectives” in the media. Others are convinced that their enemy is the party with whom they share government.

Orange-on-orange attacks are more to the taste of some: What did Nick Clegg know about Lord Rennard and Chris Huhne? And when? Is the party capable of avoiding electoral annihilation with him at the helm? Does he agree with George Osborne or Vince Cable on public investment? If Cable, where does that leave the commitment to immediate deficit reduction that supposedly lies at the heart of the governmental compact between their party and the Conservatives?

It’s not clear whether Cable’s abdication of this compact is a declaration of war with Osborne or Clegg. He’s undoubtedly taking collective responsibility and unrelenting commitment to deficit reduction on fleet-footed dances. In so doing, he wants to emerge with his now battered reputation for economic wisdom restored and his status as the heir apparent to Clegg renewed.

The sensible argument for the defenestration of Clegg is that the alternative is to reduce the Liberal Democrats to a parliamentary rump of cockroaches. His embrace of Cameron and support for increased tuition fees shattered public trust, so says the argument against him, which can never be regained. No masochistic radio phone-ins or relaunches are going to change this. Clegg, pace Jonathan Freedland and John Kampner, is a dead man walking and if he is not removed then he will drag his party down with him.


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The future is Labour’s to define

02/10/2012, 09:30:39 AM

by Sophie Lambert Russell

Analysts of the 2010 election cannot deny that during the televised debates Nick Clegg charmed his way into the hearts and minds of the British public with his apparent honest approach and sincere appeal to the camera. However, various news outlets are now awash with musings about the next election and it is all too clear that the buzz surrounding Nick Clegg vanished long ago.

The Liberal Democrats have failed to withstand the pressure that comes with being treated as a serious contender in government. An aide who accompanied Clegg during the campaign likened his success to a movie script: “we were like that mousey girl who goes to the prom in films, takes off her glasses, and shakes her hair, and suddenly everyone realises how beautiful she is” he said.

The media were certainly captured by Nick Clegg’s sparkle but this statement does reflect a slight ‘Bambi-ness’ in the Liberal Democrat camp. Since being in power they have failed to push through electoral reform and betrayed a core group of their voters by breaking their election pledge to abolish tuition fees. Jeremy Paxman described this pledge as “the most bare-faced untruth” on Newsnight last week and consequently the party has lost more than half of the support it had in 2010 and Nick Clegg’s popularity is plummeting.

The Conservatives have fared little better. Cameron had the unique experience of not entering his first term in office on the back of a political victory, but as a part of a hastily thrown together coalition. They should have worked harder to shape their message and form popular policy initiatives but like their election campaign, their time in office has been characterised by confusion and inconsistencies with U-turns on removing tax breaks for charitable donations, selling off Britain’s forests, the pasty tax and the third runway at Heathrow.

Arguably, this would not be such of an issue if the Conservatives knew how to handle the press but curiously for the party that brought us Thatcher, ‘the marketing pioneer’, this modern day Conservative party is outrageously media incompetent. Boris Johnson described the commission on a third runway at Heathrow as ‘a fudge’, and fudging is exactly how the Conservatives will make their way through the next election. The government’s media operation resembles one of those old fashioned pinball machines where a policy or a story is catapulted into the political arena where it bounces out of control off any number of levers and whizzing dials while Number 10 are scrambling around trying to bring the story under control and spin it into something positive.

Additionally both parties seem extremely divided. Vince Cable is regarded by some as waiting in the wings, schmoozing Ed Miliband, ready to take the reins from his younger, less experienced counterpart. Cameron has bigger problems. However much he tries to deny it, it is hardly unnoticeable that Boris Johnson is mounting a campaign to take over as the next leader of the Conservative Party. His popularity is growing and growing after an extremely successful Olympics and his likeability and ability to reach across all sections of society is something that will prove invaluable in years to come.With the coalition floundering and both leaders tainted by its failures, Ed Miliband has real opportunity to score with his ‘real jobs guarantee’ and the renewed drive to engage everyone in the political process. Nick Clegg stated in his speech on the last day of the Liberal Democrat Party Conference that “only the Liberal Democrats can be trusted to deliver a fairer society”… yeah right.

All eyes on Ed please.

Sophie Lambert Russell is a Labour activist

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Vince Cable’s plans for a British investment bank are a joke but Chuka’s aren’t much better

12/09/2012, 02:00:29 PM

by Paul Crowe

Oh dear. Yesterday was Vince Cable’s big day: the launch of his industrial strategy with a new state backed business investment bank at its heart. This bank is meant to plug the lending gap for small businesses and help drive economic growth. Pretty important stuff. News of the bank was the mainstay of the briefing to the media and had top billing in his speech.

Except that Vince didn’t actually announce the establishment of a new bank.

Instead he talked about how he would quite like one. Much as my four year old son tells me how he would quite like a light sabre.

The nearest we got to a commitment was Cable’s explanation that he was working with George Osborne on “how big it should be, how it should operate, and what the sectors it services should be.”

Over two years in government as secretary of state for business and Vince Cable has managed to confirm not a single detail of his flagship policy. Well done.

Chuka Umunna was justifiably scathing.

“Ministers need to come clean on whether they are proposing a proper British Investment Bank, which Ed Miliband has led calls for since last year, or merely a rebranding exercise of schemes which already exist and are not doing enough to help business.”

It is almost beyond belief that after so long in office there is no clear plan to deliver what is meant to be the centre-piece of the government’s industrial strategy.

But Labour cannot afford to be smug. If Vince Cable’s plans are a joke, then Labour’s alternative raises a smile in anyone who has worked in finance.

A few weeks ago Labour published, “The Case for a British Investment Bank”. It was written by Nicholas Tott, a former partner in corporate law firm, Herbert Smith.

Tott is a PFI expert and understands banking. He is a serious man, but his report is part of a political process and reads as such.

The critical passage is in the conclusion,

“The key principle for any British Investment Bank is that it must operate in a commercial manner to ensure that investments and interventions are made on a rational basis, only to support viable businesses with a proper analysis and pricing of risk.”

At the moment we have a banking sector that is palpably failing to provide small business with the finance it needs. It is a sector that is working in a commercial manner, making judgements on the riskiness of investments and viability of proposals in line with market norms.

Yet Labour’s report is calling for a British investment bank to operate exactly in the commercial manner that has consistently failed business.


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Revealed: How BIS abandoned British shipbuilding

14/03/2012, 07:00:21 AM

by Iain Wright

A couple of weeks ago, the MoD announced that a £0.5bn contract for the next generation of Royal Navy tankers had been awarded to a South Korean company.

Ministers thought that they had got away with this because there had been no bids from a British firm.

Peter Luff, the defence procurement minister, was quoted as saying that: “There was no British bid.  That does make it a tad difficult to award (the contract) to a British company if there is not a bid from a British company.  We don’t build tankers in the UK.”

Excuse me?  We don’t build tankers in the UK? I think the minister should try telling that to the Shipbuilders and Shiprepairers Association (SSA), whose membership comprises about 99 per cent of the UK ship production and supply chain, and whose director still insists that this contract could be built in the UK within the timeframe and to the quality required and awarded to a UK shipyard to help maintain jobs.

The government is hiding behind the excuse that no British firms applied. But this is sophistry.

There was a European bid on the table that offered a greater share of work for the UK than the South Korean winners. This would have meant 35 per cent of the contract being delivered in Britain.

But the MoD ignored the wider British economic interest.

This  sorry episode raises two serious questions: – why wasn’t the broader economic context taken into account, and could the government have done more with British suppliers to help them bid?

In both cases, it is down to the departmental champion of business across government, the department for Business, Innovation and Skills, to make the Britain’s economic case to other departments and support British companies in engaging with government.

So I asked a parliamentary question as to what meetings the business secretary Vince Cable and his ministers had with MoD ministers and civil servants, UK businesses and trade associations to prioritise the British economic interest in such an important contract.

I got the answer back last week.  No meetings had been held between BIS ministers and anybody on this matter.

I find this astonishing.


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This Fox has been ripped to pieces, but his colleagues elude the hounds

21/10/2011, 02:47:55 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The blood lust of our “feral” media, combined with the unmistakeable whiff of a politician in distress, always ends the same way. But despite Liam Fox’s exit this remains quite simply, the luckiest government in living memory.

There have been no shortage of political scandals and pratfalls over the past 17 months that could have seen any number of Dr. Fox’s colleagues beat him to the ignominious honour of being the first cabinet minister kicked to Whitehall’s curb.

But Tory and Lib Dem ministers seem to be blessed with nine lives. Perhaps rabbits’ feet are handed out to ministers with their red boxes?

Take Andrew Lansley. Surely it is only a matter of time before a piano drops on his head? He has made a complete hash of the health bill, finding himself in the curious position of pleasing absolutely no-one with his proposals, yet he remains in situ.

And then there’s Michael Gove. Although he is a true Cameroon, of which great things were not unreasonably expected, his career has never quite been the same since he was pranged early on by Ed Balls, colliding into him over the scrapping of the building schools for the future programme. He wobbled, but has recovered, of sorts, only to now find himself caught up in revelations that he and his advisers operated a secretive email network, by-passing his department’s official channels. If compelled to publish the messages under freedom of information obligations, he may find he has strayed down a Fox-hole in terms of ministerial propriety.

Before Liam Fox, the previous holder of the dubious title “cabinet-minister-most-likely–to-resign” had long been held by energy secretary Chris Huhne. He has spent the past few months on the precipice of a resignation, as the excruciating half-life of his messy divorce sees both him and his ex-wife embroiled in an unseemly “he said, she said” squabble over one or the other’s penalty points for speeding. Although a fairly mediocre crime, in the grand scheme of things, it has acquired epic proportions given the energy secretary’s career is essentially being strafed by friendly fire.

Yet he clings on. Your average rhino resembles an Oil of Olay model in the skin suppleness stakes when measured alongside Huhne. His leader, however, is forced to develop a thick hide on the job. Nick Clegg has spent most of his 17 month tenure as deputy prime minister as a pariah. He is the unhappiest looking bloke in British politics, and with good reason; he is the most hated. He has scuppered the very essence of the Lib Dems’ brand by doing the coalition’s dirty work, and now his own constituency is set to be eviscerated in a pointless parliamentary boundary review he only signed up to in order the secure the doomed referendum on AV; yet he hangs on too.

But these are just the top-drawer near-death experiences of the coalition. There are another set of ministers who have had a close shave through good old-fashioned political bumbling. Take Ken Clarke’s howler of a radio interview about rape sentencing, coming on top of his faltering handling of his brief, which has seen Tory backbenchers turn puce at what they see is the forfeiting of their credibility on law and order due to Clarke’s leniency on sending criminals to jail.

Or Vince Cable’s silly self-aggrandising, bragging that he could bring down the government if he chose to by deploying his “nuclear option” as he sought to impress a couple of fetching young female undercover reporters from the Daily Telegraph. Dufferish, old bloke failings, but indicative of senior politicians who have difficulty keeping their political antennae erect.

The last category is the weird and wonderful. Think of William Hague’s hotel arrangements. Or Oliver Letwin’s curious al fresco filing system. Or Caroline Spelman not being able to see the wood for the trees in relation to the flogging-off of national forestry management.

Any one or all of these ministers could have plausibly walked the plank during the course of the last year for either political or personal difficulties. Paradoxically, Liam Fox looked likely to become a cabinet mainstay. Meanwhile, the scalp to end all scalps, remains tantalisingly out of reach. For now.

The jet-black pelt of the chancellor is worth a dozen Fox skins. Osborne’s eventual embrace of a plan B for the economy warrants his resignation. The change of direction that will eventually come – and which Osborne puts off for the narrowest political considerations – should make his position utterly untenable.

Liam Fox will doubtless feel rather lonely as the first occupier of the cabinet’s sin bin. But he should content himself. He won’t be the last.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut.

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Politics – at least it keeps the weirdos off the streets

18/10/2011, 07:30:13 AM

by Tom Harris

As with many previous political scandals, it was my wife who offered a sane perspective.

“When you were a minister, you went on foreign trips, didn’t you”?

“A couple, yes”.

“Well, if you’d told me that you were taking our best man with you on one of them, I would have thought that was nice. But if you’d taken him on 14 of them, I would have asked if I could come instead on at least one of them”.

Which pretty much sums up how odd “Foxgate” (do we really have to call it that)? actually is. And how odd its main protagonist is.

Not that Liam Fox is any weirder than your average high-flying minister, because there’s something of the oddball in anyone who reckons that a career in politics is an acceptable way for a grown up to earn a living. (more…)

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Tuesday News Review

07/06/2011, 06:48:09 AM

Where have I heard that before?

The Prime Minister’s “five guarantees” on the NHS will prove as worthless as his “cast-iron guarantee” on Europe. He went back on the promise of a referendum and David Cameron’s already broken, by our count, three of his health promises. The PM’s come up with a handful of guarantees because he needs a short-term fix to a problem called Andrew Lansley. We haven’t forgotten his enthusiastic, 100% backing for the Health Secretary’s scheme to turn the NHS into a giant market. Mr Cameron’s five guarantees are as worthless as that discarded referendum pledge. – Daily Mirror

Making a passionate case for reform, the Prime Minister will reassure people that the NHS is safe in his Government’s hands – and he will claim the proposals are gaining support. He will offer to be “personally accountable” for five “guarantees” – that the NHS will remain universal, that “efficient and integrated care” will be improved, not broken up, that the Government will keep waiting times low and funding will increase, not fall. A survey by and YouGov today finds widespread backing from voters, including Labour supporters, for the reforms – but 59 per cent agree that “deep down, Conservatives want to fully privatise the NHS”. – Daily Express

The Prime Minister is fighting to rescue the Coalition’s Health Bill and will use a major speech to try to convince his critics that he wants the best for the NHS. He will point to reports showing that the standard of care in some hospitals is severely lacking, reports which show “elderly patients left unfed and unwashed”. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, dismissed Mr Cameron’s five pledges. He said: “David Cameron is the first Prime Minister in history to be forced to set out five pledges to protect the NHS from his own policies. Yet, he has already broken two of those pledges. The number of people waiting 18 weeks for treatment has gone up and he has not protected the health service budget. – Daily Telegraph

Salmond’s double independence blow

Alex Salmond’s hopes of a smooth transfer of powers to an independentScotland have been dealt a blow after a cabinet minister said a second referendum would be needed on independence. Michael Moore, the Scottish secretary, said there was a “strong likelihood” that if the nationalists won the first referendum, then the British government would have to hold a further plebiscite to allow Scotland the chance to vote on the precise terms of any independence deal agreed by both countries. His remarks deeply irritated Salmond, the first minister, who has repeatedly insisted there is no legal requirement for a second referendum, since the first vote – likely to be in 2015 – would be based on a detailed proposal from the Scottish government. – the Guardian

Unions have held a mini-summit over their fears for the Scottish ship building industry being undermined by the threat of Scottish independence. Representatives of GMB, Unite and Ucatt – the unions that represent thousands of workers on the Clyde and Rosyth – yesterday warned MPs that even the possibility of independence could see contracts awarded to yards in England. The issue is set to be raised today when Defence Secretary Liam Fox answers questions from the Scottish affairs select committee. Under EU rules, defence contracts do not have to go out to open tender, which means governments usually award them to home yards. – the Scotsman

The GMB flexes its muscles

The Business Secretary was heckled, booed and jeered by angry delegates at the GMB conference in Brighton. One unfurled a banner saying: “Vince Cable not welcome – stop attacking workers’ rights.” The LibDem Cabinet minister’s comments were branded inflammatory. And one union boss warned that the grass-roots reaction to his threats would be: “Bring it on.” Paul Kenny, general secretary of the 700,000-member GMB, accused him of showing “a remarkable lack of understanding” about the impact of the cuts on ordinary people. He described Dr Cable’s remarks about strike laws as “ill-judged” – and claimed his speech may even have increased the chance of widespread disruption. He said: “The GMB and other unions are still in negotiation. My view is that his speech has been very unhelpful. And I think people’s reaction on the ground is going to be, ‘if you’re going to threaten us, bring it on’.” – Daily Mirror

Vince Cable was licking his wounds last night after a miscalculated speech ended in union activists subjecting him to a torrent of heckles and catcalls. The Business Secretary intended to deliver a friendly warning to the GMB conference that a summer of industrial militancy could play into the hands of right-wing Tories agitating for fresh anti-strike legislation. Instead, to the dismay of senior Liberal Democrats, he was cast in the role of union-bashing hard man telling them to act responsibly or rue the consequences. Union leaders accused him of threatening human rights and protested that his intervention had soured the atmosphere ahead of talks with ministers over resolving a dispute over cuts to public-sector pensions. It was the fourth time in a fortnight that ill-considered words by the Business Secretary have angered colleagues. – the Independent

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