15 Sep 2013

Cable – Jeremiah sulks in the Cave of Adullam


The economy debate is shaping up to be a dramatic moment in the Lib Dem conference.

Nick Clegg will himself close the debate and there will be votes on amendments which the leadership thinks drive a coach and horses through government economic strategy.

Vince Cable clearly believes this is something of a contrived row and that the leadership is unnecessarily turning this into a dramatic fight when it could easily have simply rowed in behind the amendment.

Dr Cable is, as I write, telling conference how he will support a motion on tuition fees from the party’s youth wing even though he doesn’t agree with every word of it.

The economy

The leadership thinks the economy debate amendments (from a group on the party’s left) support a rival economic analysis, even though it is camouflaged as broadly onside.

It looks likely that Mr Clegg will win the debate but without the help of his business secretary.

Dr Cable will not be chipping in with a helpful speech, indeed he will not (according to his aides and his current diary, which I had a look at) be in the conference chamber for the debate. Instead, the relevant period between 10:30 and 12:30 has been blocked out for “SPEECH PREP.”

Read more: Lib Dems in Glasgow – wind and nuclear

He does have a speech to deliver not long after the main economic debate but you might think he could have moved that “prep” time if he’d wanted to do so.

What has happened is that there has been a behind-the-scenes tussle over whether the leadership should make this debate a big fight, or roll over and incorporate most of the amendment.

Mr Cable felt bruised by that encounter and his friends believe that Danny Alexander is behind the leadership push to have a defining row.

‘Hoover up all the credit’

Mr Alexander and others close to Nick Clegg believe that the Tories will “hoover up all the credit” for any economic recovery if the Lib Dems flake off from the deficit reduction plan (the leadership insists the amendment is a coded call for more borrowing now).

On Saturday, Dr Cable was shrugging off claims he was a bit of a Jeremiah – even joking about how his main conference speech would be a reading from the Book of Lamentations.

The leadership may see echoes of the anti-reform Adullamites named after the Cave of Adullam in his behaviour.

This isn’t a row of biblical proportions but more about party management, pride and ambition.

Read more: Lib Dems – beards, bags and sweeties

Vince Cable thinks the leadership should work more with the grain of party opinion and not kick against it, Blair-style, to make a point.

He has some pride, as does his main opponent in this row, Danny Alexander. One senior Treasury source says that Danny Alexander’s over-riding ambition is to become the single voice on economic policy in the Lib Dems, to gain the unchallenged primacy that Vince Cable for years enjoyed in opposition on economics.

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