Matthew Norman: How often does Vince Cable have to be right before they make him Chancellor?

Cable has left Osborne for dead as a repository for public faith in matters economic

Share

When Steve Jobs opted for the "shut down" option for the final time back in October, it fell to the peerless satirists of The Onion to catch the mood with typically elliptical brilliance. "Last American who knew what the fuck he was doing dies", ran the headline, and in that lay all you really needed to know about the absolute despair in Western democracies about the competence of elected politicians.

God willing, it won't be for a couple of decades, but recent events in the realm of banking suggest a similar headline may greet the demise of Dr John Vincent Cable. Sweet John Vincent is how I think of the 69-year-old amateur hoofer from York, in Ian Dury's growly dulcets, but plain Vince is best. If any modern politician has earned the right to be known by his first (technically, second) name alone, in the manner pioneered by the Admiralty on 3 September 1939 when it cabled every Royal Navy vessel "Winston is back!", it's him.

Vince is having another fine week for his soothsaying reputation, but he must nonetheless be sick of playing Cassandra. This business of him issuing the SOS, first being ignored, then being vindicated, and lastly receiving next to no credit for being right in the first place would irk a less curmudgeonly chap than our (Victor) Meldrovian Business Secretary.

He warned about unsustainable cheap credit and the consequent risk of a crash, and no one paid a blind bit of notice. He pinpointed the structural weakness at Northern Rock and called for its nationalisation, but until it was almost too late a Labour government faffed about in virtual paralysis. For inadvertently declaring war against a Murdoch media stranglehold, he was ridiculed and fined a chunk of his portfolio. By then, he had already spoken about casino banking in general, and Bob Diamond's appointment as Barclay's CEO in particular, in terms that were rather less in vogue in polite political society than than they are today.

He spoke about the banks presenting a graver threat to this country than the trade unions, and of the dangers of the non-interventionist approach to capitalism. "Markets are often irrational or rigged," he said with wonted prescience, long before most of us were world experts on Libor. "Capitalism takes no prisoners and kills competition where it can."

In another speech, he said: "We are worried about this combination of the casinos and the traditional banking. Mr Diamond illustrates in a particularly graphic way what happens when you have an extremely highly paid head of an investment bank taking over one of these major international banks."

His boss didn't listen, but why would he? With his vast experience of the real world and his staggering intellect, George Osborne needs no advice. What with knowing it all, his instinct was to dissipate the banking reforms proposed by John Vickers, and apparently still is. Just a few days ago, Norman Lamont, among others, urged him to quarantine investment banking from high street operations as Vickers suggests.

Whether or not another cute little U-turn is imminent, one pressing question today is why Obsborne is Cable's boss at all. Transparently, Vince should be Chancellor, and George... well, something less important. So, here's a challenge. To the first person who can explain to me, but in entirely non-party political terms, why a man who is pretty much right about everything is junior to one who is invariably wrong, I offer an all-expenses-paid trip (ticket, transport, hotel, spending money) to the Olympic 100 metres final. Unfortunately, you'll have to pay all the expenses yourself, but we can't be quibbling about minutiae at a time like this.

Westminster politics these days is a sprint, not a marathon, of course, and all the worse for that with all four berths in that omnipotent quartet occupied by overgrown teenagers who never did a useful day's work before running the country. (This may be unfair to Danny Alexander, who five minutes ago was press officer for the Cairngorms national park). Yet the race isn't always to the swift, or so my bible teaches, and those seeking a heartwarming Cable fable will take succour from the shock result between the tortoise and the hare.

In his unflashy, steady, plodding way, Vince has left Osborne for dead as a repository of public faith on matters economic, while, as the commentator Peter Oborne has observed, he has become the Coalition's moral core. When he speaks or fashions a policy, he does so not for short-term tactical gain, be it a flattering Daily Mail headline or in response to whatever a few nebbishes told their focus group monitor over the warm Jacob's Creek in a Slough hotel conference suite, but because it is what he believes to be right. If that sounds devilishly simple, no one else with an economic portfolio on either front bench seems desperate to give it a crack. Perhaps it's too mustily old-fashioned for the young 'uns, though it seems to work for him.

It should go without saying that Vince must, and very likely will, lead the Liberal Democrats into the next election. Being a pragmatic sort of chap, Nick Clegg is aware that he is purest ballot box strychnine. Even if he doesn't see that the tuition fees disgrace will cost him his university-dominated seat of Sheffield Hallam, he can be relied on to do the decent thing in Vince's favour. This is not to suggest that this Lib Dem winter of discontent will be made glorious summer by this son of York. But with his authenticity, moral authority and unique ability to keep saying "I told you so", not to mention that mordant wit, Vince would slaughter Messrs Cameron and Miliband in the televised debates. Whatever slim chance the Lib Dems have of surviving with more than a couple of dozen seats rests entirely with him.

But the next election probably won't arrive for two or three years, and before then the choice for David Cameron couldn't be clearer. He can stick with Osborne, whose budget cataclysm and championing of Andy Coulson have terminally degraded him as both Chancellor and Tory chief strategist; a man who, delving into Vince's own Stalin-Bean lexicon of lethal insults, has gone in a few months from Machiavelli to Benny from Crossroads. Or – and I think we can all guess how this one's going to play out – the Prime Minister could overcome his personal and tribal loyalties, and endure the seething rage of the Tory right, by giving the most important job in the country to the last man in Britain who knows what the fuck he is doing.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links