What You Can Get Away With » vince cable

If you ever wonder why people think government consultations are just a matter of routine that they get out of the way before they go and do what they’ve always planned, then the Government’s response to their ‘shares for rights’ proposal (PDF file) won’t surprise you at all. It’s a masterpiece of setting out all the reasons people have objected to the policy and pointed out reasons why it’s not needed and why it won’t work, then blithely responding that the Government intends to press ahead anyway.

As the Guardian reports (and LabourList illustrates with nice graphs) the clear majority of responses were against the proposals, but the changes suggested within the government response are cosmetic at best.

It appears that yet again, ideology has trumped evidence, and George Osborne will be continuing to push ahead with this, regardless of the fact that almost no one appears to want it. The effort put into this could have been put into some real measures to promote employee ownership, mutuals and co-operatives, but instead we have this scheme which seems to be a way for unscrupulous employers to screw their employees out of rights in exchange for a few magic beans, or for rich investors and their ilk to find more ways to avoid paying capital gains tax.

What really annoys is that while the fingerprints of the Treasury are all over it, this scheme is being pushed by the BIS department, which is one with a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State and Minister. (Indeed, one of Jo Swinson’s first roles at the department was appearing in the introduction to the consultation) They surely must have seen the reaction that this has had from the party, so why did they not take the opportunity to kill it when they were given the tools to do so? Indeed, why were they even attempting to push it through in the first place (under the smokescreen that we supported employee ownership, so we should support this)?

There’s no evidence supporting this proposal, there’s clearly no will or desire for it, it’s not in the Coalition Agreement and has never been approved by the party conference, so Liberal Democrats in Parliament should have no hesitation in voting it down and removing it.

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Only a week after George Osborne announced it at the Tory Conference, and we finally have a public comment from a senior Liberal Democrat on it. It’s Vince Cable who rides out with an article for Liberal Democrat Voice and as you’d expect from the renowned champion of the left of the party and former Labour member, it’s a resounding defence of workers’ right against any encroachment by the bosses.

Only kidding. This time, Vince’s cavalry aren’t riding out to save the day but to put the boot in by announcing that the Osborne plan is absolutely fine by him. Despite the fact that it’s about asking employees to give up certain employment rights, this isn’t Beecroft by the back door because:

That proposal would have applied to all employee contracts – this will only apply to workers at firms who want it.

So your employment rights are fine if your employer doesn’t want you to give them up, but if your employer insist that you have to give them up in favour of a few shares before you get a job, you don’t have a choice in that matter.

But don’t worry, everything will be alright because “it is not something intended for most ordinary businesses around the country.” Note the phrase there is ‘not intended’ – no one’s prohibited from taking it up, but it’s not intended that they will. However, it’s often the case that governments will create tax regulations that are only intended to have limited applicability, and then discover that lots of people realise that it’s a loophole they can take full advantage of as well. (See some of the discussion here, for instance)

But the main point remains that there’s a fundamentally illiberal heart to this policy, where we accept the idea that rights can be traded away (though in partial contradiction of Franklin’s maxim, here liberty appears to be being traded for insecurity). It’s an issue we should be fighting over, one that should be relegated to the Tory manifesto for the next election, not something Liberal Democrats should be rolling over, accepting and justifying.

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Just when we thought everything was settling down – is it really only three weeks since the election? – comes the news that Vince Cable is standing down as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats in order to concentrate more on his new role as Business Secretary.

It’s a surprising announcement in that there hadn’t been any rumours – or at least none that I’d heard – that he was planning this, but now it’s happened it’s quite a logical decision for Vince to take. The job of Deputy Leader is quite an odd beast within the party – while the official role is not quite the same as the American Vice-President (enquiring each morning as to the Leader’s health, then retiring to your office for the remainder), there’s little in the way of formal responsibility, and as it’s elected solely by and from the MPs there’s little connection to the wider party especially compared to the Party President.

So, the position is pretty much about whatever the incumbent and the party choose to make of it – it could be anything from the simple safe-pair-of-hands-in-waiting-just-in-case to something much more substantial and complex. My idea of what it should be is very close to what Alex Wilcock suggested earlier today:

1: a fairly fresh face. Some experience, but not an old hand who gets it as a consolation prize. Someone to make a mark!
2: someone who’s simply brilliant. A charismatic speaker, good on TV, quick brain – not just seen as ‘one wing’ of the party.
3: not a minister. Even Vince is too busy, & Deputy needs to speak for the party, not bound by collective responsibility.
4: OK, first 3 qualities are must-haves for me. But I’d also prefer a woman: electoral lottery means we’re very lacking.

Unless they make a conscious choice to hide in the shadows, whoever gets the job is going to become very high-profile, in that they’re going to get the call to speak for the party much more than any of their predecessors ever did simply because the rules have changed. Nick Clegg can no longer be the default person the media go to for the Liberal Democrat view and so they’re naturally going to go to the Deputy Leader for comment. Just as several Cabinet ministers over the years have been the ‘minister for the Today programme’, so the Deputy Leader will become the same for us.

This is where Alex’s four points come into play – the person who gets the role has to be an engaging and charismatic public face for the party as a whole, as well as being able to put over the Liberal Democrat view rather than the Government view. It’s also a chance for us to promote a newer face for the party, someone who could go on to be leader of the party (with all the possibilities that now opens up) not just someone getting it as a thank you for long service. For those reasons, I agree with Alex that Jo Swinson is the obvious candidate for the job.

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You know, if I’d been a mischievous journalist, I’d have been tempted this morning to call a few of the more rentaquote politicians around and tell them that all flights in the UK had been cancelled because of a threat from overseas. Would have been fun to see just what sort of quotes you would have got from them before they bothered to check what the problem is.

Today’s editorial comment is brought to you by the Attery Squash:

Note, of course, that this represents a 100% swing to Vince from Charlie Brooker. Unless they’re entirely in agreement with each other on everything.

Yes, I’m writing today’s diary before the big event of the day – and we’ll all be shocked that ITV manage to put on a programme inviting viewers to make a decision that doesn’t involve Simon Cowell or Piers Morgan sneering – but I thought I’d get a post done that wasn’t just laughing at the inevitable comedy moment when a member of the audience strays from the script and asks each leader to quote their favourite Monty Python sketch, followed by the debate just lapsing into chaos and fisticuffs as all three of them attempt to interrupt the others with cries of ‘nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!’

Today’s random question: given how much time the leaders seem to spend visiting schools – given that they always seem to be outside one when they’re on the news – do they spend more time in a campaign speaking to people too young to vote than they do speaking to actual voters?

As for me, I’ve managed to both do some deliveries and knock on some doors before coming home for the debate. 170 leaflets and letters and 35 doors take the totals up to 1660 and 155, with three weeks to go and a stack of stuff to do tomorrow. I’m hoping the volcanic ash doesn’t affect the weather too much – the sunny weather of the last few days has been great for campaigning in.

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