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Cable: policy Tourette’s or a hostage?

Are all Vince Cable’s ideas stupid? If not, why does he keep withdrawing them?

Break up RBS and create a ‘business bank’. Oh no, wait a minute, just kidding, that would be madness. Such appears to be the average day in Vince Cable’s head. Not for the first time one of Cable’s insights into the cosmos evaporated completely under scrutiny. So is this the sign of a man who just has a first rate mind for stupid ideas?

No, it doesn’t. I am no particular fan of Cable and to be honest he seems to me best known for offering the ‘acceptable face’ to criticisms that were widespread. You may remember those old Fast Show sketches in which a woman comes up with a great idea in the area of a traditionally male pursuit (such as car mechanics). Despite being surrounded by people (all men) the pretend not to hear her. Then one of the men reiterates exactly the same idea in exactly the same words and is lauded by his peers.

This is a little unfair on Cable who is by all accounts an intelligent man. However, there is more than a grain of truth in the comparison. Lots and lots of people had spotted the nascent banking crisis but since we were all ‘on the left’ and outside ‘the mainstream’ the comments were simply ignored. Until things started getting bad, Cable repeated what a thousand ‘anti-globalisation’ or ‘anti-capitalist’ had been saying for years and he was embraced as the messiah.

Oh well, there is no point in complaining that your ideas get noticed. But I think we can complain when they get distorted out of all recognition. Cable was once right – we need real firewalls between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ banking. Just like he is right that we need a proper investment bank in the UK. Just as he is right that our existing banks are not (not even nearly) playing the game. So what is the result of all this rightness? Nothing. Nothing at all. He reversed his position on firewalls (or more mendaciously he reversed his policy position but continued to claim that his non-actions were really the same thing he had been talking about before). He reversed all comments about being more aggressive in coercing banks to be, well, banks. And now he was wrong about the investment bank idea.

None of this is meant to be about attacking Vince Cable – at the very least he noticed and commented on the problems which is more than did the rest of our elected representatives. It is meant to be asking an important question of democracy. Does Cable have a sort-of policy Tourette’s in which he just shouts out the first idea that comes into his head, or is he actually being held hostage and every time he manages to squeeze a message out through the bars of his cage he seems to get caught and his captors force him onto video to denounce his actions.

Anyone who is going to make the case that Westminster is capable of governing the country has to answer this question: what do we do if our elected politicians are all held hostage? That perfectly good ideas from an intelligent man are vaporised in minutes through the power of financial service sector lobbyists is more than a cause for concern. Britain is not governed, it is forced to beg for its life on camera as the big money boys sit behind the lens with the big guns pointing.

How is anything meant to get better if we just accept this as ‘life’? The answer to that question is one Mr Cable would be able to answer eloquently. And then retract.

Robin McAlpine