Liberal Democrat conference: Not what I expected of Vince Cable

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Media captionVince Cable's full speech to the Liberal Democrat conference

Vince Cable didn't quite deliver as expected.

Last year the Business Secretary played to the Lib Dem gallery with a populist speech that depicted capitalism as brutal and dismissed bankers as "spivs and gamblers".

We expected more of the same this year, but we didn't get it. There were a few more swipes at bankers and society's inequalities but it didn't sound as if his heart was in it.

His much-trailed plans to curb executive pay failed to live up to their billing: it amounted to no more than consultation and getting the former boss of Rolls-Royce to investigate. Nothing very radical is likely to come of that and Lib Dem activists regarded it all as a bit of a damp squib.

The Cable speech was notable nevertheless, for its grim assessment of our current economy predicament.

Grey skies

He said we were in the "economic equivalent of war", in which the US economy had "stalled" and the condition of the Eurozone was "dire". As for Britain, he saw no respite in the foreseeable future.

He could offer no "sunny uplands", he said, only "grey skies".

You can regard all this as laying it on a bit thick - nobody ever mistook Mr Cable for a ray of sunshine - or unvarnished economic realism.

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Media captionAndrew Neil reports from the Liberal Democrat conference gauging the mood of delegates

But if he's right the political consequences for the Lib Dems have yet to dawn here in Birmingham.

The hope was always to get the pain out of the way and hit the next election with the deficit tamed, a growing economy and rising living standards.

But if the economy really is in the tank, as Mr Cable says, then even with an election still four years away the coalition could already be running out of time to reach the sunny uplands by 2015.

If it's grey skies for the foreseeable future the Lib Dems poll ratings, currently languishing at 11%, are unlikely to improve.

Indeed you wouldn't rule out them getting worse. But nobody here in Birmingham, where the Lib Dems are in quite a chipper mood, wants to contemplate that.

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