Edinburgh Fringe 2016
An hour of considerable interest with Sir Vince Cable, economist, politician and one of the few commentators to have seen the 2008 financial crisis before it hit the UK right between the eyes.
By his own admission, Vince Cable came to politics relatively late in life, only winning a seat in the House of Commons at the relatively ripe-old age of 54 when his children had long since left the nest. But he feels that this enabled him to take a more balanced view of the political hurly-burly given that he wasn’t trying to juggle the demands of what is a 24/7 occupation with those of raising a young family, unlike a number of his peers across all the major parties.
His late entry to the political game meant he garnered considerable experience of life and work outside the political bubble, with spells as an academic economist, economic advisor to the Kenyan Government and the Commonwealth Secretary-General and the role of Chief Economist at Shell in the years immediately prior to his election to Parliament in 1997. His experiences were in direct contrast to those of many of his Coalition Cabinet colleagues who’d emerged bright-eyed and busy tailed via the researcher/SPAD route, one so much in vogue these days and so open to accusations of cronyism.
A cerebral but nonetheless occasionally very dry and droll orator, Cable warmed to interviewer Chris Carter’s gentle probing before another packed auditorium at the University of Edinburgh Business School. Compared to battling with the likes of Paxman and Humphreys, this must have seemed like a walk in the park, but Carter’s disarming approach has the habit of relaxing interviewees and it certainly did the trick here, releasing a stream of enlightening and sometime amusing anecdotes.
Cable was particularly modest, yet dryly amusing, on his role in drawing the impending financial crisis to the attention of the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown and the then Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King. Whilst not openly critical of either in terms of their handling of the resultant economic debacle, he nevertheless left his audience in no doubt that more could have been done earlier to burst the property and debt bubbles that were the root cause of the crash.
A strong advocate of the need for Governments to plan for the long term, his recommendation is that the UK create an Economics Ministry to focus on growth, productivity and investment, leaving the Finance Ministry (or Treasury) to focus on the day-to-day finances. It’s a wonderful suggestion but one I fear will be buried by the political might of the Treasury who would see it as a threat to their hold on the purse strings. Another example of politics getting in the way of sensible progress for the nation.
Pragmatic, considered, urbane and never less than generous to a number of well-known political figures across a broad spectrum, Sir Vince Cable provided an enlightening end to this series of interviews at the University of Edinburgh Business School. We await their return in 2017 with keen anticipation.