Three years ago it seemed that Vince Cable could do no wrong when he predicted the economic recession, what has happened? Allie Wickham charts Saint Vince’s fall from grace.
As the Liberal Democrat economics spokesman he was credited with an almost prescient forewarning of the 2008 financial crisis, and earned cross-party respect for his constructive criticism during the run on Northern Rock. Michael White of The Guardian claimed that he was then the most popular politician in Britain, trumpeting the virtues of the ‘cult of Cable’. Yet since making that fatal transition from opposition to government, where he has held the position of Business Secretary for the last year, Mr. Cable has been in a downward spiral. The very same newspaper that once revered the Member for Twickenham cruelly turned his own words against him, remarking that he had gone ‘from Saint Vince to Mr. Bean’. As time now appears to be running out on his political career it seems appropriate to ask: what happened to Vince Cable.
The entire Liberal Democrat leadership has suffered terribly as a result of their tuition fees nightmare; but while Nick Clegg bears the brunt of public animosity for that foul-up, Mr. Cable is no less deserving of censure. As one of those Lib Dems that made the ill-judged decision to publicly sign a pledge opposing future rises in tuition fees, Mr. Cable knew he was in for a rough ride when then given responsibility for implementing the Browne Report recommendations. And as if the broken promises were not enough, the Business Secretary compounded the mess he was in by engaging in the most farcical prevarication on the issue. After implying in an interview with BBC Radio 5 live that he may abstain from voting on the very legislation that he had drawn up – and rightly being ridiculed for it – Mr. Cable fell back in line and voted with the Coalition. But the worst was still to come. When confronted by two female undercover Daily Telegraph journalists posing as constituents Mr. Cable cringingly boasted that he had a ‘nuclear option’ to bring down the government, going on to say that he was ‘at war’ with the Murdoch empire in its attempt to gain control of BSkyB. While such language arguably warranted the consigning of the Business Secretary to the back-benches, his position in the Liberal Party allowed him to escape with a mere reduction of his duties. Finally we come to Mr. Cable’s return to the spotlight this week. As David Cameron prepared to give a speech on immigration while on the campaign trail for the local elections in May – a speech which incidentally was fair and measured – Mr. Cable derided the Prime Minister’s language as unwise, inflammatory, and against Coalition policy. After a furious telephone call from Downing Street a swift backtrack was in order, but the damage was already done.
It is clear that Vince Cable is not the man he was. He is seen now as more of a liability than an all-knowing economics prophet, and the rise of Jeremy Hunt after the Telegraph sting has rendered him politically impotent. How can such a fall be accounted for? It is clear that Mr. Cable finds the partnership with the Conservatives uncomfortable; ‘he is his own man’, as sources say. Perhaps the trappings of power have turned him into the kind of politician that the public despise. Maybe, in spite of all the promise and potential, he was never cut out for government. Whatever the reason Mr. Cable’s waning credibility is becoming an embarrassment for the Coalition; with rumours of a Cabinet reshuffle on the cards in May, his days in frontline politics may be numbered.