Mark Leftly: Is this the same Vince Cable who invoked Big Brother?

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Westminster Outlook If I seem a touch harsh on our increasingly Gladstonian-featured Business Secretary then that’s probably because I’ve got the hump with him over China.

It was breathtaking that a man who only five years ago complained that Britain was “producing a surveillance state that Big Brother would have been proud to call his own” warned us this week of the folly of “lecturing” China on its human rights record.

Yes, Mr Cable is indeed quite right that we should admire China’s economic achievements, and that discussing rights issues must be “done in a certain tone”. However, his own tone is verging on the obsequious and it would be simply wrong to be blinded by Chinese billions for nuclear power stations, high-speed rail, and an eye-wateringly lucrative liquefied natural gas contract for BP. The Liberal Democrats have desperately tried to argue that they have acted as a restraint on Tory avarice and toughness in coalition. Mr Cable’s words show this has not consistently been the case: faced with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and his treasury stuffed full of renminbi on a trade mission this week, our once high-minded Business Secretary bowed.

Before he tasted power Mr Cable worried earnestly over our civil liberties. Now, it seems as though he has a thirst for power that has overwhelmed his more admirable sensibilities.