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Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Do you really want our politicians to be honest?

Before we start, I have a confession to make.  I too made a covert recording of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

I secretly recorded Vince Cable giving a lecture soon after he came to power because I wanted to accurately recall the details of his speech on Keynesian macroeconomics and fiscal stimuli.  What I didn't do is leak it to the press.

I like Vince.  This isn't a blind admiration of someone I've never met - liking someone, just because it's a cool thing to do.  I've met the man, shaken hands with him, and heard him speak passionately and intelligently on contemporary issues of global importance.

On top of that, he seems a genuinely warm and affable man.  Self-effacing and acutely aware of his own position; in the speech I mentioned above he joked how surprised his host must have been, having booked a Lib Dem spokesperson months ahead of a general election - to get a Secretary of State!

I wouldn't go so far as to claim St Vince of Cable is the antidote to everything I see wrong in modern politics; but he does, in the words of a cider brewer, make a refreshing change.  He has a PhD in Economics and had a career outside of politics and academia, making him well-qualified for the job.

So when I read what constitutes "headline news" this morning I began to wonder if Vince Cable had not already made the undercover reporters with recording gear for who they were, and carefully selected his message to express the position the Lib Dems find themselves in!

Okay - I'm joking. A bit.  But in truth what is so shocking about anything he's reported to have said?  Perhaps showing some underlying frustration?  But unless the Lib Dems step up and speak out the whole party risks being lost in the sea of blue.

UPDATE: 15:46 - I wrote this post before learning of the "war on Murdoch" comments...

Reading between the lines of his description of a "nuclear option" - the fact he thinks he has no "conventional weapons" to fight his ground might actually relate to the way the Lib Dems have chosen not to tackle the press before now, instead opting to portray unity with their coalition partners at all costs.

I mean, would the world have ended if a government minister had abstained on a vote on government policy (tuition fees)?  The political classes certainly think so.  WAKE UP!  Let's stop pretending we don't have a coalition government!!  The fees rise was a Tory policy.

The Lib Dems had already agreed in the coalition agreement document that their MPs could abstain if they didn't like the outcome of the Browne report.  The government would still have won the vote, even had every Lib Dem abstained, including Mr Cable!  No-one would need to resign.  The government wouldn't have collapsed.  Life would just goes on.

I'm reminded of another speech made towards the end of summer, in private, by a senior Lib Dem in government.  Part of the speech explored how the Lib Dems in government should deal with the press, given a very real fear that the press would exploit even the smallest perceived split.

My own view differs from that of the Minister.  Whilst some in the party feel that the Lib Dems need to bite their tongue and wait for the press to learn to live with a coalition, I feel the Lib Dems need to grab the press bulls by the horns or risk disappearing into oblivion.  The country must learn to live with a coalition of two parties, rather than paper over differences to maintain an allusion of perfect government.

Maintaining a unified front may appear to be in the country's interests.  After all, given these difficult economic times (TM), we need a strong and stable government!  But I feel another clich√© is far more apt: if it doesn't kill [the coalition], it will make it stronger.

So how about this...  How about proving the government is strong enough to survive differences of opinion between the coalition partners?  Surely that's the best option long term for reassuring the British electorate and pacifying  the itchy markets?

After all, if we continue to paper over the cracks, we never know how serious a problem we're ignoring.  At least airing differences in public gets the electorate used to accepting and living with a style of government new to most in the UK, and provides some transparency of how the government we elected arrives at its decisions.


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