I can’t imagine Vince Cable is looking forward to work tomorrow. His new ministerial team, Michael Fallon and Matthew Hancock, are both Tory reformers who are committed to liberalising the economy and taking a torch to red tape. Precisely the type of activity that Cable usually loves to stand athwart, as he did the Beecroft proposals. Quite a few Tories would like him sacked, but David Cameron has decided to have his Business Secretary restrained instead and has sent in the heavies.
Fallon is a fairly serious character. Last year, I was at a party where Fallon accosted a Tory government member and asked him what he had done to make life easier for small businesses. The answer wasn’t forthcoming, so Fallon laid into him saying it wasn’t any surprise that the economy was not moving. It was quite a sight: here was an MP to whom politics was not a game. Procrastinating ministers and officials drive him mad. Being deployed as a minister in Cable’s department may not be good for Fallon’s blood pressure, but it could be good for our economy.
Some may doubt Hancock’s own radical credentials, given that he spent so long working for George Osborne. But his instincts are strongly pro-reform. At a Spectator schools conference recently he spoke strongly in favour of letting them operate for a profit, something even Gove does not advocate. He was pro-Beecroft, and his still-strong links with the Treasury will strengthen the Tory grip on Cable’s department.
All told it is a clever manoeuvre, with a clear goal in mind: that the Anti-Business Department becomes the Business Department once again. Whether Cable likes it or not.