Cable the Jeremiah

Vince Cable The business secretary relishes his reputation as the "sage of Richmond'

The script's already been written.

The leader will call on his party not to lose its nerve. He'll urge them to finish the job they've begun. A vote billed as "crucial" will end in victory for the leadership and defeat for those party activists who want a change of policy.

That, at least, is how Team Clegg are presenting Monday's debate on the economy at the Liberal Democrat conference.

There's just one problem. The man most people think of when they think about the Lib Dems and the economy is refusing to be part of the plot.

Vince Cable, the business secretary and formerly his party's shadow chancellor, will take no part in the debate.

He won't speak in it. He may not even vote (although we are assured that he does back his leader's position)

Vince Cable believes that this is an unnecessary fight. He thinks that if Nick Clegg really wanted to he could reach a compromise with party activists who are calling for economic policy to be "re-balanced" to "raise employment and growth".

In part this is a row about presentation.

Nick Clegg fears that his party would let the Tories "hoover up all the credit" for economic recovery if they give the appearance of wanting to change economic policy now.

That's why he will declare on Monday that there is "one thing that both George Osborne and Ed Balls want - for us to throw away our economic credibility". He will tell his party conference "Don't do it"

Vince Cable, on the other hand, relishes his reputation as the man who warned about the economic crash - the man mocked here as "the sage of Richmond" and described by the prime minister as "a perpetual Jeremiah" after his recent warnings that things may not be as good as some Tories are suggesting they are.

There is, though, substance to the argument.

The business secretary has long argued that the Treasury is manned by officials obsessed with a hairshirt approach to the economy.

He has fought to persuade his coalition colleagues to spend more on infrastructure and to free local councils to borrow more in order to build more houses.

He fears that another housing bubble could lead to an increase in interest rates choking off recovery.

He thinks policy makers need to be ready for the moment the Bank of England decides to scale back its support for the economy. If monetary policy does less, then fiscal policy - tax and spend - may need to do more.

Before the summer Lib Dem MPs debated their economic policy. Vince made his case and lost.

One source close to the party leadership claimed there was a vote in which Clegg's position got 55 votes and Cable's just two.

No wonder the sage of Richmond doesn't want to play any part in Monday's pre-scripted confrontation between his leader and his party.

Update Monday 10am: I am now told that no vote was held after a debate about economic policy at the Lib Dem parliamentary meeting a few weeks ago. However, sources close to both Vince Cable and Nick Clegg agree that the Business Secretary did urge the party to be prepared to relax fiscal policy if the recovery wasn't sustained. Mr Cable is said to have had the support of just one other Lib Dem MP. Mr Clegg persuaded all the others. So, it was 55 versus 2.

Nick Robinson Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    No one really cares what the Lib Dems say about the economy. Anyone with half a brain knows it was the Tories who sorted out the financial mess. Heres hoping for a Tory majority in 2015 so they can really start laying into the Public Sector hangers on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    He can't be there. He's found a fence that needs sitting on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    So all the main parties are going into the next election with exactly the same economic policy?

    Is there any point holding elections in Britain any more? Given most of the Cabinet and shadows studied the same courses we might as well appoint the Oxbridge Politics and Economics lecturers as a ruling council in perpetuity and be done with it.

    Democracy my behind..

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    The LibDems are the Perfect Politicians. They will never be in charge. So never responsible or to blame. They flip left to right depending on who the big dog is. They're all middle class and well educated. No EU imported workers undercutting their wages! They never have to worry about paying their electric bill or rent/mortgage, so they can sound superciliously green and EU tastic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Instructive. Again on display, the twin curses of populism:

    Fear of "politically unwise" deviation from course, their president urging Lib Dems to "stick to (Tory) guns"

    Desire to seem "distinctive, independent", at least in the run-up to the 2015 election, "to take account of what is happening in the real economy"

    Strident calls for a tweak here or there. None allowed for equal partnership

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Lib Dem misses the great opportunity to shine in recession. They didn’t fight enough for free competitions (the nature law – survival of the fittest). They tried to protect public sector and not offer SMEs and freelance fare chances. In the end of the day, businesses are not about infrastructures. To succeed it, it requires practical skills and entrepreneur spirits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Political posturing trumps an opportunity to focus on helping the less fortunate and takes priority over more important issues generally. Sad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    economic policy to be "re-balanced" to raise employment and growth

    Which is code for spending a lot more money by govt to hire several hundred thousand extra civil servants and create an unsustainable boom based on govt borrowing even more money.

    The fact that employment is at its highest ever seems to have escape the LDs

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    My view is that whatever Cleggs & Lib/Dems backtracking on some policys, the bigger picture is if voters want Liebour or Torys to again dominate government & use their idealogical political sledgehammer mentality to afflict their idealisms upon the nation.
    If not for coalition, Torys would have afflicted many more unwanted policy extremes upon us all, & Liebour would be the same

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Come on Auntie the politics section of this site is full of makeweights collecting the money and forgetting their remit.

    How can you ever hold our politicians to account on our behalf when your correspondants are always M.I.A. without the action.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Time was, you went to your party's conference to help shape policy. Now you go to be told what it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Ed Miliband could be a good candidate to replace Clegg. And he seems very likely to be available.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    We can't really wait to get rid of these treacherous incompetent fools who have proved beyond doubt that their leadership are more interested in ministerial salaries/cars than representing their members.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Since my last comment was removed I will rephrase:

    Nick your missing Vince..... story could easily be said about your contributions to the BBC of late, talk about part time.

    Your really tearing up tree's to get to the truth in our name Nick keep up the good work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    No41 ARH,
    Some people think that by bringing the G20 leaders to London, who all embarked on massive state intervention it was Dr Brown more than anyone else who saved the world's economy from complete meltdown.
    Do you think 'Orange Book',doyen of parliamentary expense fiddles David Laws, and the criminal former leadership candidate would have had much success with their policy?

  • Comment number 43.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Whilst Clegg puts himself on a pedestal as the saviour, Cable actually is ready to speak the truth, there is no difference in our economy now than 3 years ago in that all that has happened is QE has taken hold and the government are looking to make the poor, working class and now the middle class pay for saving the billionaires. The BoE seems incapable of steering the economy as is Osborne.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Journalists make more of this than is necessary. Coalition politics means compromise - otherwise there will be policy gridlock. Well done Nick Clegg for helping to save the country from the Brown - Balls debacle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Clegg is in danger of spinning himself sick. Osborne has rebalanced the economy to favour the rich even more than previously: profits and dividends are taking an increasing share of our wealth while wages for actual work fall. Austerity is for the many - the few wallow in luxury. The poor, sick and disabled are treated like criminals. And Nick fears the Tories may take all the credit?

  • Comment number 39.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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