Whatever happened to Sir Vince Cable?
He should be on a victory tour, but instead he's gone off in a different direction
This should be Vince Cable’s time. Quite often these days when talking to people in government and politics about some bit of policy or other, I find myself thinking about Dr Cable and how he pre-empted so many of today’s political debates.
Levelling up regions left behind in the UK economy? Industrial strategy where the state takes a more active role in markets? Corporate governance reform to answer worries about British capitalism’s tendency to encourage short-termism and under-investment? None of these things were invented by Cummings-Johnson Tories, nor by Timothy-May, nor even by Ed Miliband.
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No, Vince Cable got there first, to no great avail. Close observers of the Coalition government will recall that when Cable advocated many of the policies and ideas that Red Wall Tories now consider their own, his Tory partners dismissed him as a yellow-rosetted commie.
So Cable, rarely accused of modesty, should today be on a victory tour, celebrated as the man whose ideas could just heal our economic and social woes.
But he’s not. He’s gone off in rather a different direction. Back in April, he decided, for no obvious reason, to celebrate the “positives” in Lenin’s rule over Russia, by which he probably didn’t include all those dead people and the rejection of democracy.
And now he’s written a book, with the apparent aim of explaining how to avert a war between China and the West. Which sounds good, but also like a gigantic straw man, because it appears Cable’s premise is that criticism of China for doing bad stuff is the same as wanting World War III.
Cable’s alternative to that war, it seems, is that anyone worried about, say, China’s abuse of Uighur Muslims just has to shrug and accept such things as the Chinese way, something that must be tolerated and even respected.
“China is far from being the only country, or the worst, when it comes to human rights abuses,” he writes, as if that makes the detention of a million people less egregious.
Worse, Cable helpfully explains that the Chinese concept of human rights is different to our dreadful Western conceptions, putting more emphasis on economic advancement and — I infer — less weight on petty stuff like voting and not being locked up and beaten for thinking the wrong things.
“In an ideal world, both sets of rights would be supported and advanced together,” Cable concludes, omitting to explain how on earth that can be done.
A decade ago, it was a crying shame that people didn’t listen more to Vince Cable; if he’d got more traction for his ideas in government, many bits of British life might be a little bit better today than they are. But today, sadly, we have to hope that no-one listens to him now.
“…..our dreadful Western conceptions,……. petty stuff like voting and not being locked up and beaten for thinking the wrong things.”
Don’t worry, the Law Society and our Government are working on getting rid of that petty stuff
At the end of the day the Chinese are simply more honest and rational to a fault when faced with socio political challenges than we are in the West. We have already forgotten but about five years ago Islamic activists tried to leverage the Uighur community in China against the Chinese State for the eventual independence of a Uighur state. There was even some footsy from Ankara playing the ethnic champion card through their secret agencies. And the push climaxed with a brutal mass knife attack at a crowded Chinese train station during the Chinese New Year rush, I think 60 people were killed about 300 injured.
So you have this issue facing you are you are the PRC. What do you do? You eliminate the resource. Problem solved. We are doing the same thing in the West but we are moving slowly through education and generational change. Only time will tell who is right because failure means risking annihilation.
To put it safely my competitor’s competitor is not my friend.
The trouble with that argument is that the Chinese Communist Party has been following very similar policies toward all ethnic and religious minorities, not just toward the stabbers. Christians and Tibetans have been squashed too, although they never murdered anyone. Now the Chinese government is gradually eliminating the Mongolian language from education in Inner Mongolia and replacing it with Mandarin Chinese. This cannot be explained as a reaction to secessionism or to terrorism.
Sounds like the Dr has gone bats**t crazy just like the rest of the Illiberal Undemocratic party.
The reason why his ideas never got any traction was because the good ones were always mixed in with this sort of nonsense. How many serving Lib-Dem leaders lost their own seat in the general election they tried to convince their dwindling support base they had a realistic chance of winning, when all they have ever managed to do was come third well enough once to form a coalition, which in turn destroyed their support base for the next election.
But the advantages of the coalition far outweighed the slow death of the Lib Dems. It was part of a greater plan whereby the solid and attractive Lib Dem policies were taken into Facebook re-shaping it into the wonderful, global beneficence it is today. Come back Sir Nick and lead us out of covid.
“Facebook re-shaping it into the wonderful, global beneficence it is today.”
Thanks that put a smile on my face on a cold Friday morning.
Someone was not paying attention as all the issues that the media spun as Vince Nostradamus Cable, were already on the political radar. No surprise that a social capital liberal has nice things to say about China’s neo-liberal concept of human rights.
Lenin’s legacy wasn’t wholly negative but there is no way it should be celebrated. Vince Cable is right that the New Economic Policy was a much needed retreat from the policy of War Communism that had been in place beforehand and was wrecking the Soviet economy. It is well-described in Richard Pipes’s “Russia under the Bolshevik Regime”. The leaders in charge emphasized that this was just a temporary retreat from socialism and not a permanent state of affairs. Had Lenin lived and kept his health for longer, the market-oriented reforms might have had more staying power, but it is hard to say. Part of the NEP, about which Lenin was enthusiastic, was an over-ambitious state electrification plan that never met its targets. It is a real stretch to see the NEP as a precursor to Deng’s market socialism policies in China, as Cable does.
It is yet to be seen whether industrial policy is actually a good idea for Britain. It certainly has a poor record over the long term, as it makes markets less free and less accountable, although there may be some short term gains that all these far-sighted believers point to.
The problem of small party thinkers and activists going off the rails is a common one, in many Western countries. When you get accustomed to being the Outsider, and thinking like an Outsider, it becomes a habit. It requires huge self-discipline to control the parameters of your political path when you don’t have the natural constraints that Big Parties have – principally the imperative to keep your head down in the interests of promotion. In the end, the problem for Cable and many others is that there were too few James Kirkups in their inner circles. We need more thinkers, and more organised networks of thinkers, to keep each other on track.
Thanks for the plug for Vince’s book. When so much news comes from such tainted sources, for example ‘Five Eyes’, I’m looking forward to reading a trustworthy author.
As am I. I particularly love the bit where Vince wasn’t chasing Chinese cash by writing bollocks.
I take it you are being ironic?
I thought that was obvious, hence my uptick.
Sarcastic, not ironic
Thank you for not confusing the two, like Americans do.
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