If Vince Cable has achieved anything, it’s to enliven a Lib Dem conference that had
settled into cosy anonymity after Clegg’s speech on Monday. He has now delivered the address that David blogged about earlier – and all of the firebrand passages trailed in this morning’s papers were present and correct. “Capitalism,” Cable warned, “kills competition where it can.” And he followed that lead to kick the bankers where he could. In between passages extolling the virtues of “pro business, pro market” policy, he set about the “spiv and gamblers” who had triggered the financial crisis.
To be honest, though, I find it hard to get too worked up about this. Sure, the bash-a-banker rhetoric is equal parts lazy and unhelpful. But, then, this is Vince Cable waltzing into what would normally be the party leader’s slot – so what did we expect? And, besides, the rhetoric is mere dressing to the actual policy behind it – and, on the whole, the policy thrust of Cable’s speech was in line with what the coalition has been pitching since May. It’s telling that Downing Street has confirmed that it saw, and presumably okayed, Cable’s speech in advance.
And so we heard about splitting the banks, a consultation into executive pay, limiting risk, getting credit to small businesses, and so on. As vicious as some of Cable’s language was, most of this was outlined the coalition agreement. There was, in fact, only one area of real, substantive difference: bankers’ bonuses. Cable suggested – as Clegg did on Monday – that further, urgent action should be taken. As George Parker reports in the FT today, this is an area where the Lib Dem duo disagree with their Tory colleagues in the Treasury.
All this isn’t to excuse Cable. Far from it. He is our country’s Business Secretary, and should probably restrain himself from lobbing emotive hand-grenades all over the place. But I suspect that this speech says more about him, and how he wants to be seen by his own party, than it does about cold, hard policy. Little wonder why Ladbrokes now have him at 2/1 to be the next minister to depart the fold.