John Vincent "Vince" Cable (born 9 May 1943) is a British Liberal Democrat politician who is currently the Business Secretary in the coalition cabinet of David Cameron. He has been Member of Parliament for Twickenham since 1997.
Cable studied economics at university and became an economic advisor to the Kenyan government in 1966. He was an advisor to the British government and to the Commonwealth Secretary-General in the 1970s and 1980s. Later, he served as Chief Economist for the oil company Shell from 1995 to 1997. In 1970s, Cable was active in the Labour Party and became a Glasgow councillor. However in 1982, he joined the Social Democratic Party which would go on to form the Liberal Democrats, and he unsuccessfully contested seats in the elections of 1983, 1987 and 1992 until being elected as the MP for the London constituency of Twickenham in the 1997 general election.
Cable was the Liberal Democrats' main economic spokesperson from 2003 to May 2010. He was elected Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons in March 2006, and following Sir Menzies Campbell's resignation, he was acting leader for two months—from October 2007 until the election of Nick Clegg. He resigned from his position as Deputy Leader in May 2010.
Cable has had a high profile since the financial crisis of 2007–2010 and has written several books on economics and trade.
Early life and educationCable was born in York and attended Nunthorpe Grammar School. He went on to study Natural Sciences and Economics at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and was President of the Cambridge Union in 1965. He was also a committee member of, and later president-elect of, the Cambridge University Liberal Club, but resigned from the Liberals before taking up the office of president. He later received a PhD in Economics from the University of Glasgow.
Economic careerCable lectured for a time at the University of Glasgow and the London School of Economics. From 1966 to 1968, he was a Treasury Finance Officer to the Kenyan Government. In the 1970s, he was special advisor to John Smith when the latter was Industry Secretary. He was an advisor to the British government and then to the Commonwealth Secretary-General in the 1970s and 1980s. Later, he served as Chief Economist for the oil company Royal Dutch Shell from 1995 to 1997. Questions have been asked in a left-leaning magazine about his role at Shell during a period when the company came under fierce criticism for its claimed role in a turbulent era of Nigerian politics.
Political careerAt university, Cable was a member of the Liberal Party but joined the Labour Party after graduation. In 1970, he unsuccessfully fought Glasgow Hillhead for Labour, and later became a Glasgow councillor. In 1979, he sought the Labour nomination for Hampstead, losing to Ken Livingstone, who was unsuccessful in taking the seat.
In February 1982, he joined the recently created Social Democratic Party (SDP). He was the SDP-Liberal Alliance parliamentary candidate for his home city of York in both the 1983 and 1987 general elections. Following the 1988 merger of the alliance, he lost his 1992 general election bid as a Liberal Democrat to unseat Conservative MP Toby Jessel in the Twickenham constituency, but successfully defeated Jessel at the 1997 general election. He subsequently increased his majority in the elections of 2001, 2005 and increased still further in 2010.
In 2004, Cable contributed to the Orange Book and is identified with the economic liberal wing of the party. He believes that the Liberal Democrats should stand for "fairer taxes, not higher taxes".
Prior to the 2005 Liberal Democratic party conference, Cable did not rule out the possibility that the Lib Dems might form a coalition government with the Conservative Party in the event of a hung parliament at the next general election. Then party leader Charles Kennedy said that the party would remain an "independent political force".
In late 2005 or early 2006, Cable presented Charles Kennedy a letter signed by eleven out of the twenty-three frontbenchers, including himself, expressing a lack of confidence in Kennedy's leadership of the Liberal Democrats. On 5 January 2006, because of pressure from his frontbench team and an ITN News report documenting his alcoholism, Charles Kennedy announced a leadership election in which he pledged to stand for re-election. However, he resigned on 7 January. Cable passed on the opportunity to run for the party leadership himself, instead supporting Sir Menzies Campbell's bid.
Deputy LeaderSince being elected deputy leader in March 2006, Cable continued to rise in status within the party until doubts were first raised about his judgement after his idea for a much mocked "mansion tax" when he appeared unable to understand the likely practical difficulties with such a tax. The idea was quickly buried following the 2010 election.
In May 2010, Cable declared his resignation as deputy leader to dedicate more time to his Cabinet role as Business Secretary. His responsibilities and authority were somewhat reduced when it was revealed in December 2010 that he had boasted to Daily Telegraph reporters posing as constituents of his "nuclear option" to bring the government down by his resignation. Still worse he claimed to the reporters that he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation despite having the responsibility to impartially arbitrate on the News Corporation bid to acquire the remaining 60.9% of BSkyB it did not already own. Amid cries for his resignation or sacking, all his responsibilities concerning the bid were removed. Cable did not resign. Some have pointed to how important he must be to the coalition to have not been sacked over the issue, bearing in mind that Murdoch and News Corp are powerful allies of the Conservative Party.
Following the earlier example of Ann Widdecombe, Cable was then a contestant in the BBC's Christmas 2010 "Strictly Come Dancing" contest but failed to win. The Guardian ran the headline:"From Saint Vince to Mr Bean"
Economic crisisCable is credited by some with prescience of the global financial crisis of 2007–2010. In November 2003, Cable asked Gordon Brown, then Chancellor, "Is not the brutal truth that ... the growth of the British economy is sustained by consumer spending pinned against record levels of personal debt, which is secured, if at all, against house prices that the Bank of England describes as well above equilibrium level?" Brown replied, "As the Bank of England said yesterday, consumer spending is returning to trend. The Governor said, 'there is no indication that the scale of debt problems have ... risen markedly in the last five years.' He also said that the fraction of household income used up in debt service is lower than it was then."
In his book The Storm, Cable writes, "The trigger for the current global financial crisis was the US mortgage market and, indeed, the scale of improvident and unscrupulous lending on that side of the Atlantic dwarfs into insignificance the escapades of our own banks." In an interview about the book, Cable was asked whether he had warned about this. Cable replied, "No, I didn’t. That’s quite true." He continued, "But you’re quite right, and one of the problems of being a British MP is that you do tend to get rather parochial and I haven’t been to the States for years and years, so I wouldn’t claim to have any feel for what’s been going on there."
Cable has also been vocal over the bonus culture in the banking system. He has called for bonuses to all bank employees to be frozen.
However, Cable has been criticised by some, Conservatives particularly, for 'flip-flopping' on issues in connection with the crisis. For example, he is accused of criticising the Government's policy of 'quantitative easing', when in January 2009 he used the phrase "the Robert Mugabe school of economics", while in March 2009 he said, "directly increasing the amount of money flowing into the economy is now the only clear option". He has responded to deny this claim, saying that he had been warning of the dangers if QE was not managed properly, and the Liberal Democrats also have responded that he was making the point that QE "needed to be managed with a great deal of care".
On the issue of fiscal stimulus, Cable told the BBC in October 2008, "it is entirely wrong for the government to assume the economy should be stimulated by yet more public spending rather than tax cuts". In February 2009, however, he said, "we believe — and the Government say that they believe — in the need for a fiscal stimulus. Despite the severe financial constraints on the public sector, we believe that such a stimulus is right and necessary".
On the principle of the independence of the Bank of England, Cable said at the 2008 Liberal Democrat party conference, "The Government must not compromise the independence of the Bank of England by telling it to slash interest rates."The following month, though, he called on the Chancellor to urge the Governor of the Bank to make "a large cut in interest rates". The Liberal Democrats have responded that this in no way changes their policy on Bank of England independence.
When overall MP allowances are ranked, Cable came in 568th for 2007–08 (out of 645 MPs). The Daily Telegraph also noted that he did not take a recent 2.33% salary rise.
Coalition governmentAt the 2010 General Election Cable was again returned as MP for Twickenham. With the election resulting in a hung parliament, Cable was a key figure in coalition talks, particularly the unsuccessful negotiations with the Labour Party. The Liberal Democrats entered a coalition agreement with the Conservative Party on 11 May 2010, and Cable was appointed Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on 12 May. The Queen approved his appointment as a Privy Counsellor, and he formally joined the Council on 13 May.
In May 2010, Cable insisted the coalition government was not split over planned increases to non-business capital gains tax, which some thought would raise taxes on sales of second homes by 40% or 50%. Senior Tory MPs attacked the rise as a tax on the middle classes and a betrayal of Conservative values. Cable told BBC News it was a "key" part of the coalition deal and there was no disagreement over it between the coalition partners. Cable said the changes to capital gains tax would help to fulfil the Lib Dem aim of bringing more "fairness" to the tax system: "It's very important that we have wealth taxed in the same way as income." He continued,
|“||At present it is quite wrong and it is an open invitation to tax avoidance to have people taxed at 40% or potentially 50% on their income, but only taxed at 18% on capital gains; it leads to large scale tax avoidance so for reasons of fairness and practicality, we have agreed that the capital gains tax system needs to be fundamentally reformed."||”|
In July 2010, Cable dismissed claims that there "isn't a problem" with credit lines. He demanded that banks curb bonus payments and use the cash to boost lending instead. A green paper on bank lending that Cable launched on 26 July 2010 specifically urged banks to limit bonus and dividend payments to "pre-crisis and 2009 levels respectively". The green paper states that the move would enable banks to retain £10bn of additional capital in 2010 could in turn sustain £50bn of new lending. Cable's demands came as the Forum of Private Business said that small firms were finding it harder to secure loans. The trade body said its latest Economy Watch survey found that there was a "significant demand" not being met by banks with conditions worsening in recent weeks. The FPB said that 1pc of respondents said access to finance has improved, compared to 3pc in May, and 15pc said it has worsened. In addition, 67pc said they had seen no changes in their ability to secure loans.
The British left wing press was often critical of his role in the coalition, from The Guardian to the low-circulation communist daily The Morning Star describing him as "the man who started off a Lib Dem and now looks more convincingly Tory than most of the Tory frontbench" for his role in supporting public spending cuts.
In September 2010, during a speech to the Lib Dem conference, Cable said that bankers present more of a threat to Britain than trade unions. Cable said that "The Government's agenda is not one of laissez-faire. Markets are often irrational or rigged. So I am shining a harsh light into the murky world of corporate behaviour. 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 duties when a fat cheque is waved before them? Capitalism takes no prisoners and kills competition where it can."
After the interim report on banking was published in April 2011, Cable said: "I read it over the weekend and I was very impressed with the quality of the analysis. "It does address head on the issue of banks that are too big to fail, the dependency on the government guarantee. It makes the case for separation," he added.
Tuition feesDuring the autumn of 2010 Cable hit the headlines over his indecisive stance on university tuition fees. Before the 2010 general election he and other Liberal Democrat MPs signed a pledge to oppose any rise in tuition fees. However, as government Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, he is now responsible for the British government's proposed policy to raise tuition fees to between £6,000 and £9,000. Cable stated he might abstain from the vote but subsequently voted for the policy.
December 2010 undercover sting commentsIn late December 2010, undercover reporters from The Daily Telegraph, posing as constituents, set up a meeting with Cable, who expressed frustration with being in the coalition and compared it to "fighting a war"; he stated he had "a nuclear option... if they push me too far then I can walk out and bring the government down and they know that", and had to "pick" his fights carefully. He also claimed the Liberal Democrats had pressed for a "very tough approach" to the UK's banks, which had been opposed by the Conservatives. He described the coalition's attempt at fast, widespread reforms (including the health service and local governments) as being a "kind of Maoist revolution", and thought "we [the government] are trying to do too many things... a lot of it is Tory inspired. The problem is not that they are Tory inspired, but that they haven’t thought them through. We should be putting a brake on them." When his comments appeared in the press, Cable stated, "Naturally I am embarrassed by these comments and I regret them", before reaffirming his commitment to the coalition government, stating that "I am proud of what it is achieving".
In an undisclosed part of the Telegraph transcript given to the BBC's Robert Peston by a whistleblower unhappy that the Telegraph had not published Cable's comments in full, Cable stated in reference to Rupert Murdoch's attempted takeover of BSkyB, "I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we are going to win." Following this revelation Cable had his responsibility for media affairs – including ruling on Murdoch's takeover plans – withdrawn from his role as business secretary.
Personal lifeCable's first wife was Olympia Rebelo, a Goan Roman Catholic whom he met "in the unromantic setting of a York mental hospital where we happened to be working as nurses during a summer vacation." He courted her while working in Kenya as a treasury finance officer and despite the concerns of both their fathers, they married in Nairobi's Catholic Cathedral in 1968. They had three children together and she completed her PhD at Glasgow University in 1976. Olympia Cable was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after the 1987 general election. After apparently successful treatment the disease returned in the mid 1990s and by the 1997 election Cable was juggling his senior post at Shell with being his wife's carer. Olympia Cable died shortly after the 2001 election.
In 2004, he married Rachel Wenban Smith. When appearing on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs programme in January 2009, Cable revealed that he wears the wedding rings from both of his marriages.
A keen ballroom dancer, Cable long expressed his desire to appear on the BBC's hit TV show Strictly Come Dancing; he appeared on the Christmas 2010 edition of the show, partnered by Erin Boag and dancing the Foxtrot. Cable was the second politician to appear on the show, after Ann Widdecombe.
Cable is also a patron of the Polycystic Kidney Disease Charity (PKD).