You’d have to be a fan of the Cable and Fallon show to get this one


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The Independent Online

After a record crop of entries, the prize for this year’s most convoluted Christmas-referencing Commons intervention goes to Labour frontbencher Iain Wright who asked Vince Cable yesterday (and this is only a bowdlerised extract): “Given that this is the season of good will…will the Secretary of State ask for permission from his Minister of State at least to undo his electronic tag a notch or two and will not BIS and DECC ministers snuggle up together to watch Strictly, eggnog in hand, and promise to come back in 2013 determined to focus on British enterprise… not departmental infighting and ministerial surveillance?”

The point behind this impenetrable stream of consciousness is that the Vince Cable/Michael Fallon show is a silkier version of the one operated on that other Lib Dem/Tory front line by the Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, and the irrepressible John Hayes. As the Business Secretary’s Tory high command-appointed commissar, Fallon is smoother – and cleverer – than Hayes. But it was Fallon who confided in the Institute of Directors last month that Cable “slips his electronic tag occasionally”.

The difference, at least in style, is palpable. Cable has a downbeat manner which hints at vestiges of sympathy with the opposite benches. Yes, there was “a lot of distress” in the construction industry, he said at Business Questions yesterday. But there was “some indication” of orders improving. Fallon, by contrast, jumped straight down the throat of Labour’s Barry Sheerman when he criticised the Treasury for not showing more “leadership” in promoting manufacturing industry. He should re-read the Autumn Statement, Fallon said.

Yet Fallon has impeccable credentials as an arch-Thatcherite who grew up politically in the 1980s financial services “big bang” era when government help for manufacturing was anathema and when the news that more people were employed by McDonald’s than in shipbuilding was something to celebrate. When Michael Heseltine arrived at what was then the Department of Trade and Industry in 1992 he asked the officials what the strategy was and was told: “We’re not allowed to use that word.” Now, even on the government benches, all the talk is of “rebalancing” the economy post-crash and of “industrial strategy” .

True, Fallon did not use the latter term yesterday. But he seemed happy to boast of the government’s £1.5bn extension of credit for smaller exporting companies. Which only shows what a pro he is.

That said, Cable’s Lib Dem Employment Minister, Jo Swinson, managed to escape her own “electronic tag”. Slapping down Tory backbencher John Baron’s call to forbid strikes supported by fewer than 50 per cent of members eligible to vote, she pointed out that the police commissioner covering Baron’s constituency had been elected “on 6.6 per cent of the vote”. Swinson 1 Baron nil.