David Blackburn

Cable shows his true colours

Cable shows his true colours
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‘[Capitalism] takes no prisoners and it kills competition where it can’. ‘Markets are often irrational or rigged.’ A snob would describe those as the ravings of a chippy provincial university lecturer. In fact, they are the considered thoughts of Vince Cable, the business secretary, the very man tasked with selling Britain to international markets.

Cable will address the Lib Dem conference later today, vowing to shine the ‘harsh light into the murky world corporate behaviour’. Limiting short-term speculation when linked to high pay is government policy, but Cable will go further than a spot of banker bashing. Much further. He will say:

‘Why should good companies be destroyed by short-term investors looking for a speculative killing, while their accomplices in the City make fat fees? Why do directors forget their wider duties when a fat cheque is waved before them?’

His emotive sweep traduces the lawyers, bankers, insurers and accountants who oversee mergers and acquisitions, the quintessence of financial services, as ‘accomplices’, which as Allister Heath notes is a word with exclusively criminal connotations.

Cable’s comments may or may not be Marxist, but they are indisputably fatuous – a puerile grope for applause at the close of the Lib Dem conference, nothing more.

His ruse has backfired because the business community, regardless of political persuasion, has invaded the airwaves to denounce him. Digby Jones was on Radio4, warning of rhetoric that says ‘we don’t like business like we used to.’ ‘Red’ Adair Turner has urged ministers to ‘move on from banker bashing’ and address the structural and regulatory causes of the financial crisis. The CBI, aghast at the possible consequences of the business secretary’s views, nearly described him as ‘tired and emotional’. 'Vain and inane' would have been equally accurate.

UPDATE: Many thanks to Paul Waugh and George Eaton who point out that Vince Cable channelled Adam Smith on competition in his ‘pro-business, pro-market’ speech earlier this afternoon. However, the business secretary changed his tune from last night:

"Capitalism takes no prisoners and kills competition where it can," was replaced by: "Capitalism takes no prisoners and kills competition when it can, as Adam Smith explained over 200 years ago...competition is central to my pro-market, pro-business agenda."

Capitalism is competitive and that this a good thing if properly regulated – it plainly is. But you do have to say that. Never again will a speech be briefed the night before, and so loosely.