5 Aug 2011

Is anybody in charge?

Speaking to Channel 4 News, Business Secretary Vince Cable hits back at criticisms that there is no one in charge of the British response to the burgeoning eurozone crisis.

The Government hits back at criticisms it is not keeping up with the eurozone crisis (Reuters)

Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the Chancellor George Osborne are all enjoying their summer breaks abroad.

But as the sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone deepens, should our leaders not be focused on dealing with the repercussions for the UK rather than on topping up their tans?

Labour Shadow Treasury Minister Chris Leslie thinks so.

He told The Mirror newspaper: “This is either bad planning or astonishing complacency. It used to be highly unusual for the Prime Minster and Deputy Prime Minister to all be out of the country at the same time. That has been compounded by George Osborne’s decision to take himself off to the other side of the world.

I don’t know much about economics, but I’m honest and have a pleasant telephone voice. I could cover lunch. Twitter response to John Prescott’s call for volunteers to run the country while the Cabinet is on holiday

“While they are trying to relax in the hope that nothing important is happening, the economy has ground to a halt. Every organisation from the IMF to the Office for Budget Responsibility is sounding the alarm and the clouds are gathering over the eurozone and the US.”

Labour’s John Prescott, a former deputy prime minister, has added fuel to the fire with a Twitter campaign, #wheresthegovernment, which became the fourth biggest trending topic in the UK.

Lord Prescott asked members of the public if they would volunteer to run the country while key Cabinet ministers were away and received a wave of responses like this one from @BertieBarber: “I don’t know much about economics, but I’m honest and have a pleasant telephone voice. I could cover lunch.”

‘This is not the 18th century’

However the Government has come out fighting over the summer breaks of top figures, taken during the parliamentary recess.

A spokeswoman for Number 10 told Channel 4 News there were no plans for Mr Cameron to return from his holiday in Italy or to make a statement on the market turmoil.

However, she confirmed the Prime Minister had spoken to the Governor of the Bank of England earlier today. Mr Osborne will also speak with the Governor as well as Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs.

The Government is always operating 24 hours a day, we’re not in the 18th century. William Hague, Foreign Secretary

But Business Secretary Vince Cable told Channel 4 News there was no need to panic – particularly because Britain was not at the centre of the crisis.

He said: “We have a team of senior ministers here, I’m one of them, and I’m in regular touch with British business.

“Other ministers are in town. The Prime Minister I believe had a conversation this morning with the Governor of the Bank of England, so we’re very well organised. We are very well prepared to deal with the position.

“But we’re not at the centre of this crisis. Britain is an oasis of calm in what are global financial upheavals, and we’re seen as a safe haven because our public finances are under control.”

His comments echoed Foreign Secretary William Hague, who was earlier pressed into action to chair a meeting in London on the crisis.

He said: “The Government is always operating 24 hours a day – we’re not in the 18th century. Of course everyone is constantly in touch by telephone or whatever means necessary.

“I’ve been discussing it with the Prime Minister this morning and indeed am on my way to central London to chair a meeting about this now. So the Government is fully functioning in response to this crisis and indeed to anything else that is happening in the country or in the world.”