Defending his record and looking forward to the future: Vince Cable at QE

Former Cabinet Minister Sir Vince Cable gave a robust defence of the Liberal Democrats’ role in the Coalition Government and took a sanguine view of his party’s prospects when he spoke at Queen Elizabeth’s School.

Although ostensibly a Politics Society event, his talk in the Main Hall was very well attended by pupils from across the School.

Organiser Adrian Burbie of Year 12, (pictured below with Mr. Cable), a Senior Vice Captain of School, reported afterwards on the thoughts of the visiting politician, who lost his seat at the 2015 General Election. Sir Vince is the latest in a number of public figures and academics to give talks and lectures at the School during the current academic year.

Sir Vince, 72, contrasted his own route into politics with the typical route followed by today’s ‘career politicians’, namely a Philosophy, Politics & Economics (PPE) degree at Oxford, followed by a post as an assistant or advisor in Parliament. He was born to working-class parents and attended a grammar school in York.

He initially studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge, before switching to Economics. After further study at Glasgow, he was a lecturer and research fellow both there and at the London School of Economics.

""He spoke at great length about his period as Treasury Finance Officer to the Kenyan government, describing his time in Kenya as an “enriching and eye-opening” experience and recommended that students of Economics should seize any chance they are offered to go abroad. Sir Vince then took up a post as Chief Economist for Royal Dutch Shell from 1995-97.

He then recalled his transition into the world of politics, which began when he became a Labour councillor in Glasgow. He joined the SDP when they split from Labour in 1982. Six years later, the SDP merged with the Liberals to become the Liberal Democrats.

Sir Vince has held a variety of notable roles – Lib Dem Trade Spokesperson, followed by Lib Dem Treasury Spokesperson, Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems from 2006-2010, and Acting Leader of the Lib Dems in 2007.

Notwithstanding the loss of his seat in 2015 and the Lib Dems’ disastrous performance in the same election, Sir Vince vigorously defended both his own and his party’s record. His talk included:

  • ""His claim that he had correctly predicted the global financial crisis of 2007-10. (He wrote two well-received books, The Storm, of 2009, and last year’s After the Storm, in which he analysed the circumstances that precipitated and followed the crash.)
  • A defence of going into coalition with the Conservatives after it became clear that a coalition with Labour was not numerically feasible. He felt that such a step was a necessity to avoid the financial meltdown that many at the time feared.
  • Highlighting his proudest moment, in answer to a question by Year 7 pupil Manomay Lala-Raykar – which was his time as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, running such a major government department and negotiating with George Osborne and David Cameron.
  • Justifying his department’s tripling of tuition fees to £9,000 – a point on which he was quizzed by pupil Year 12 pupil Maaz Shahzad. His department was forced to make cuts of over 25 per cent and he did not believe that the Scottish system of no tuition fees was sustainable or right, as it meant that universities were underfunded. He described the fees not as a debt, but as a ‘graduate tax’. He stated that the new system his department introduced was fairer and he pointed to statistics showing increased numbers of people (including those from deprived backgrounds) going to university. “The policy itself was good – I’d give the policy about 8 out of 10 – but the politics of it was poor – about 2 out of 10.”
  • An emphatic answer to Year 12 pupil Craig Robertson, who accused him of “not doing enough to make the rich responsible and help the poor”.  The Lib Dems had managed to implement more than 80 per cent of their manifesto commitments in a coalition, he said, pointing out that inequality had risen in all western, developed economies, not just the UK.

""Compared with their Conservative coalition partners, the Lib Dems had come off worse, and had been unfairly victimised and blamed, he said, having been especially tainted by the tuition fees episode. He had expected the Lib Dems’ share of seats in the Commons to go down to about 30, not eight.

Questioned by Year 13 pupil Bhavik Somani about whether the Lib Dems would come back as a credible political force, he responded that Labour’s move to the left represented a new opportunity which the party would be working to seize over the coming Parliament, capitalising on the “vacated” centre ground.

Although focusing on the serious business of politics, his talk was not without its lighter moments. He referred to his well-known love for ballroom dancing and spoke about his appearance on the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special in 2010, where he scored an impressive 36/40 including, as he reminded the boys, 10/10 from Len Goodman – a recollection which drew laughter from the audience.