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Jerry Hayes

Call me an old cynic but what is Vince Cable up to?

May 30th, 2010 by Jerry Hayes

The personal tragedy of David Laws is not the beginning of the end of the coalition nor even the end of the beginning, but it has diverted attention away from a potential hazard that puzzles me. I can understand why Vince Cable wanted to relinquish the role of Deputy Leader of his party, which is about as relevant and utilitarian as a cat flap in a submarine. To abandon the rubber chicken circuit, administering counselling to a potentially fractious grass roots is a distraction from the enormities of his cabinet job. In fact,nobody in their right mind would want the job, which is probably why Simon Hughes is so keen to get it. But why did Cable anoint him as his successor?

Simon is a lovely chap, delightfully disorganized and brimming with ideas. Yet he does represent the Rampton Wing of his party. In the days when the SDP was just a mischievous glint in David Owen’s eye, Simon was leading the unreconstructed woolly hat brigade. Bizarre compromises would suddenly appear from nowhere. In the emotionally charged debate on the age of sexual equality Simon announced to the House that the age on consent should be seventeen. Why? Heaven knows. And recently, in an almost Whovian strangulation of logic, he came up with the corker of setting up Lib Dem shadows for his own coalition government. Matron! Medication quickly!

So, call me an old cynic, but what is Vince Cable up to? He is a thoroughly able member of the government and committed to the coalition, but every fibre of his cerebral cortex is that of tax and spend. The poor chap has probably had to develop more reverse gears than an Italian tank. Does he want Hughes in place to stoke the flames of Liberalism? To be the tweaker in Chief of consciences? To harrow the government with every crackers idea that slips into the Hughes mind? This may not be the plan but the reality could be a total nightmare. It’s difficult enough getting policy through the department, then Number 10, then the Treasury, then the Commons and Lords without the added factor of Hughesian bonkery validated with some form of democratic mandate.

And then there are the other candidates for the job. Just where are they?  I’m sure Tim Farron is a lovely chap, but when I Googled him, Paris Hilton’s dogs got more column inches. He’s not even a household name in his own household. But there are some perfectly sensible people who could do a sane  and sensible job in helping keep the Lib Dems’ feet on the ground. What about Don Foster, Bob Russell or even bring in old stagers like Alan Beith or Malcolm Bruce. And what about shoving Paul Keetch into the Lords and giving him the job?  The talent is there, it’s just that someone at the top needs to think this through.

And as for Simon Hughes? A challenge. Put him in charge of a commission which will take years to report back, make him President of the Council of Europe. You could even make him Governor of Bermuda. Just keep him busy and out of the way.

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