A happy coalition christmas

Posted on December 23, 2010

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In September, I asked on these pages whether Vince Cable was the most likely senior Lib Dem to fall foul of the coalition government and move to the backbenches, or even defect to Labour. In some respects, those questions have proved to be important ones, given Cable’s recent infidelities in declaring that he would be prepared to bring the coalition down and that he has “declared war” on the Murdoch empire. Yet I have my doubts over the Business Secretary’s sincerity in this respect.

Since I mused on his potential defection a few months ago, Cable has proved himself a good coalition man by steering the unpopular rise in tuition fees through the house, much to the chagrin of many of his Lib Dem colleagues (not to mention the thousands of students who voted for his party at the election). His recent rants to undercover Daily Telegraph reporters posing as constituents do not so much show him to be a man of genuine integrity as somebody who tailors his words to suit his audience. When he believes himself to be speaking to Liberal-thinking constituents, who presumably voted for him based on the values he claimed to believe in back in May, he says one thing. When he speaks to his Tory masters in Cabinet or Parliament, he says quite the opposite.

Cable isn’t the only Liberal Democrat engaged in such methods of deception. Others have been caught in the act. Yet he is by far the most senior, and thus it is his comments that will most frighten Cameron, Osborne and Clegg. A stronger, more self-confident government would have swiftly sacked him. Cameron’s coalition, however, is so weak and needs to maintain Liberal Democrat support so much that Cable will, ridiculously, retain his post, albeit with reduced powers. Attempts to disguise the reasoning behind his retention are pitifully weak. Strong governments do not put up with wayward ministers. Weak ones, particularly one still reeling from a rebellion over tuition fees, do.

Cable’s attempt to deflect the wrath onto the Telegraph, a paper that has performed an admirable role in recent years in exposing the misdeeds of our elected representatives, is indicative of a desperate man. The reporters in question have performed a valuable service, be it in exposing the real views of the Lib Dems towards their new political masters, or indeed their cynical cunning in saying what they believe will keep their listener happy. Politicians attempting to blame journalists for this sorry mess should not have their way.

In September I wrote that Cable was “out on a limb”. Now he appears even more so. Back then he was a man that appeared starkly at odds with his fellow ministers. He remains that man, yet in the three months since then he has alienated previous supporters to the point that, should he leave the government and return to opposition, there will be many fewer people to welcome him than before.

 

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Posted in: Politics