Friday, December 07, 2007

House Points: An interview with Vince Cable

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Credible Cable

There’s only one politician to write about this week: Vince Cable, the man who makes prime ministers blench and grown cabinet ministers cry. Fortunately, House Points was among a group of Lib Dem bloggers invited to interview him on Monday evening.

How does Vince explain his success in the Commons? In part it has been luck: issues like Northern Rock have played to his strengths as an economist. But he took a conscious decision to be more forceful than recent Lib Dem leaders, using aggression and humour to win media attention.

The crack about Gordon Brown going "from Stalin to Mr Bean" had been in the press before, but Vince used it to devastating effect on the floor of the House. The best part of the episode, he said, was hearing himself quoted by voters in the pub afterwards.

I was hoping for some insight into the brooding psychology of our new prime minister, but Vince said their closeness in the 1970s has been exaggerated. True, he contributed a chapter to Gordon Brown’s Red Paper on Scotland, but Vince was in Glasgow and Brown was in Edinburgh. And that divide often counts for more even than Hadrian’s Wall.

What Vince did give us was some telling political analysis of Gordon Brown’s difficulties. Brown is in love with the power of the state and blind to its limitations. So schemes like tax credits begin with the best of intentions but founder on the inflexibility of bureaucracy and the complexity of people’s lives.

That time in Glasgow may explain the note of Private Fraser in Vince’s economic views ("We’re all doomed.") He believes banks need more regulation – drop the Cruickshank Report of 2000 into the conversation if you want to sound well informed.

Vince is having the time of his life. When Cowley Street was trying to "put the zing into Ming" last summer, someone made up a story about his loving Strictly Come Dancing to make him seem less austere. For a few more weeks we have a leader who really does watch the programme and would love to appear on it too.

If he did, you sense Vince would do just as good a job as he has done as Lib Dem leader.

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