Vince Cable denies Chancellor ambitions


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Business Secretary Vince Cable denied today that he was pushing to be made Chancellor, as David Cameron faced a call from one of his own backbenchers to move George Osborne out of the Treasury.

Mr Cable sparked speculation over his ambitions when he told BBC2's Newsnight last night that he would "probably" make a good chancellor. But the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary insisted today that he was working in a team with Mr Osborne, and did not have a "radically different" agenda for the economy from the Tory Chancellor.

The Chancellor has come under increasing pressure after growth figures yesterday which showed Britain slipping deeper into recession, with gross omestic product (GDP) shrinking by 0.7% between April and June.

Mr Cameron acknowledged today that the figures were "very disappointing" and said more needed to be done to stimulate growth by attracting inward investment and supporting infrastructure development.

But Mr Osborne received a strong endorsement from the secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), Angel Gurria, who urged him to "persevere" with his deficit-reduction strategy and "stay the course".

Mr Gurria told Radio 4's Today programme that Mr Osborne was "sowing the seeds of what will be the elements for recovery" and warned that any weakening of resolve would be punished by the ratings agencies and the markets.

But dissatisfaction on the Conservative backbenches with Mr Osborne's performance broke into the open as Nadine Dorries said in a tweet: "For the sake of country and Conservative party, most trusted politician in UK, William Hague, needs to become Chancellor."

But the Mid-Bedfordshire MP, a regular critic of the Tory leadership team, made clear she did not expect Mr Osborne to be sacked, adding the Twitter hashtag "£wonthappen".

Asked if he wanted to be Chancellor, Mr Cable told Today: "I am not pushing for the job. We are part of a team. We have a collective agreed policy and I am delivering on my bit of it, which centres on the area of industrial strategy.

"I am not proposing a radically different approach."

If he were to be made chancellor, he said, "I would be building on what George Osborne has already achieved".

Mr Cable defended Mr Osborne from the Labour charge that he is a "part-time Chancellor", because of his other job, planning Tory strategy for the next election.

"I am a full-time Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and I do work full time at the jobs that I do, and I know that he does as well. My observation is that, like me, he works very hard.

"He is not doing two jobs. We all contribute in a collective way to the overall business of Government. I am responsible for the Business, Innovation and Skills Department, I also contribute to wider debates on the economy.

"We both work hard and we both work full time on what we are supposed to be doing, which is getting this crisis-hit economy out of the mire in which we find ourselves.

"We have got a combined approach and a team approach and we are going to stick with that."

Mr Cable said the Government was now pursuing what he called "Plan A-plus" on the economy, combining fiscal discipline with targeted support for infrastructure and housing.

The Business Secretary told Today: "I think it is right and necessary that we have budget discipline. That is the path we have embarked on and we must stick with that.

"But I think it is possible at the same time to have the foundations of a recovery which is sustainable.

"The reason we haven't got it is because the problems are very, very deep indeed. This is a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. We have had a collapsed banking system, we have massive amounts of debt - personal household debt, big Government deficits - and now we have got this enormous problem in our main export markets.

"I don't think anybody expected that the position across the Channel would deteriorate as much as it has done. It's not all their fault, that is one component of the problem.

"I think everyone concerned under-estimated the enormous damage that had been done to the country as a result of the collapse of the financial system and the great difficulties we have in growing out of debt.

"What we are putting in place is called Plan A-plus, which is that we do the budget discipline - which is absolutely necessary but is not sufficient - and we have to put in place measures supporting infrastructure and housing. They are coming through."

While manufacturing industries such as cars, aerospace and the creative industries are doing well, construction is "particularly depressed" as the result of the collapse of a bubble in both the domestic and commercial markets from 2008 which destroyed the sector, he said.

"There was a decision taken in 2009 by (then Labour chancellor) Alistair Darling to drastically cut the capital budget. This Government has maintained tough controls on that, but it has relaxed it somewhat and within the last few months plans have been put in place to get big infrastructure projects moving with the support of the Government.

"We realise that the construction industry is the weak link in the economy and we are putting in place measures to deal with it."