How Tony Screwed Vince

Tony Blair has a lot to answer for. I’m not talking about Iraq though – not quite that bad but I’m still talking about something pretty terrible:

I believe that Tony Blair was personally responsible for David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

I’d better explain. Blair’s annihilation of IDS and Michael Howard convinced the Conservative party that they had to fight fire with fire. Wheeling out old people with poor communication skills wasn’t working. The Lib Dems had also tried it with Sir Menzies Campbell… but not for very long.

And so it came to pass that the other parties each created a leader in Blair’s image and lo, they were shit.

One politician who was not created in Blair’s image, however, is Vince Cable. On Twitter this week I wrote this:

I do feel sorry for Vince Cable. He looks like a man who ordered steak and chips but a turd sandwich arrived and his boss made him eat it.

Worse still, after he ate it, his boss made him go on TV and say, “Yum yum.”

(I would like to take a moment to apologise for saying “turd sandwich”. I shouldn’t have said that. I should have said “turd baguette” as a turd would fit much better in a baguette.*)

I do wonder how far Nick Clegg’s approval ratings have fallen since the heady days of the party leaders’ debates in the run up to the election. He did well in those debates, not because he had better policies but because he did the best job of articulating the problems with the policies of the other two. He did such a good job that I, and I’m sure many others, thought he believed in what he was saying.

A picture of Nick Clegg before the election

A picture of Nick Clegg before the election

Just a few weeks later it became clear this could not have been further from the truth. Once Cameron dangled his mouldy carrot of power in front of Clegg’s mouth, there was no turning back. Since that day pretty much everything that Clegg preached before the election has been swept under the carpet and while I can understand the lure of power I am still, in equal measure, impressed and horrified at how easily he has forgotten everything he put into his party manifesto.

Vince on the other hand hasn’t found his turd sandwich quite so easy to stomach. I think, in fact, he would be a happier man today if the general election had resulted in a decent gain of seats for the Lib Dems but no coalition. Vince was impressive in opposition. I also think he would be impressive as Chancellor in a Lib Dem government. He is distinctly unimpressive, however, when it comes to maintaining a smile whilst implementing policies with which he doesn’t agree.

This phenomenon reached a whole new level this week though when Vince announced that he might not vote for “his own” policy on university tuition fees. “His own” policy, by the way, is to allow universities to charge tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year.

I will now take a step back. I was lucky enough to attend university shortly before tuition fees came into being. I received the maximum student grant and had a huge amount of help from my parents but it was still a colossal task to pay off the £9,000 of debt I had when I left. If I did the same today under the proposed scheme I would likely have around £40,000 of debt. I have no idea how I would pay that off.

An argument often used in favour of hiking up tuition fees is that the mean lifetime earnings of people with degrees is higher than the mean lifetime earnings of people without one. While this is true it is pitting a simplistic argument against a complex problem. For a start, if you plot earnings vs number of people earning that wage you will see a skewed distribution – i.e. there are a small number of people earning huge wages which pushes the mean up to be higher than what most people actually earn.

Additionally there are of course, careers which require higher educational training which pay well below the mean. If I were selecting a university course today I would not, as I did 14 years ago, choose the subject in which I was most interested. I would instead choose between:

  • Which subject gives me the best chance of being able to repay a debt of £40,000?
  • I am not going to go to university

Tuition fees are not right and tuition fees are not wrong. I could write a whole other post on what I think about that subject and still only skim the surface. This blog post is not about what the best policy is though – it is about Vince and I must bring it back to that subject.

My belief is that Vince is more or less a good bloke but is currently in a position of terrible inner conflict. Does he go with what he believes or does he go with what David Cameron believes? I think he is one of the most capable politicians in the current government but sadly, I have serious doubts as to whether he will be able to stick it out in his cabinet role and a resignation before the next election would not surprise me.

I don’t know the reasons why Vince Cable decided to get into politics but I suspect his current predicament wasn’t in the plan. He is caught between two Tony Blair clones when he never wanted to have anything to do with Tony Blair at all.

When the labour leadership election was going on I wanted Ed Miliband to win. Not just because he had a better understanding of the important issues than his brother did but also that David would have been a third Tony Blair chucked into the mix and I couldn’t have voted for any of them. Ed will now have the problem of trying to break the “let’s all be Blair” stranglehold on British politics but I sense that most of us are more than ready to put that behind us so maybe he might just stand a chance.

You will have noted above when I said Vince might vote against his own policy I put “his own” in quotes. I did that because although it was widely reported in the media as being his own, I actually don’t class it as his own policy at all – it’s David’s. Vince’s own policy was the one under which the Lib Dems fought the last election and it’s interesting because it is more than a little bit different. It goes like this:

We will abolish tuition fees.

Think about his position for a moment. He wanted tuition fees abolished and yet he is now expected to be the one who takes responsibility for increasing them. It’s not easy to reconcile those two policies is it?

I mean – the difference between them would cause a pretty fucking massive problem for anyone, right?

Anyone that is, except for Nick Clegg.


*Yes, blatantly stolen from Alan Partridge’s “infected spinal column in a bap”.