While Boris was busy upstaging everybody at the Olympic victory parade, Vince Cable was giving a rather earnest statement on industrial strategy in the Commons chamber. Cable didn’t reveal that much about what he will say tomorrow, simply calling it ‘a gradual evolution of policy’ and making clear that it does not mark a return to picking winners.
But as with all Vince appearances these days, Labour tried to woo him while various Tories questioned his coalition fidelity. Chuka Umunna pointed out that while Vince Cable had been working for John Smith, Michael Fallon had been part of Margaret Thatcher’s team. One Labour MP after another then questioned whether Cameron and Osborne would sabotage his approach.
For their part, Tory backbenchers were largely supportive with two notable exceptions. Rather naughtily, Julian Lewis asked the Business Secretary to elucidate on how much happier he was to be developing this policy with the Tories than Labour. All Cable would say to that was that he welcome support from all quarters. But when the permanently outraged Peter Bone thundered that Cable had delivered a ‘Labour statement not a coalition one’, Cable took the bait. He pointed out that his announcement went in tandem with Michael Fallon’s announcement on reducing red tape and that he knew that the latter was more important to small businesses.
Allies of Cable say that his main priority is to make sure that the Liberal Democrats are seen as a distinctive force at the next election; hence his regular acts of differentiation. He’s also wise enough to know that the best chance for the Liberal Democrats in 2015 is if they are seen as being able to do a deal with either of the two main parties. For this reason, I suspect Cable will continue to flit between showing a bit of leg to Labour and playing hard to get.Tags: Coalition, Industry, UK politics, Vince Cable