“What’s happening is extraordinarily serious. We’re in a very deep crisis,” Vince Cable, Business Secretary, said last night in the first of many startling admissions. Cable – speaking alongside John Denham, Labour MP and Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party – was speaking at a debate about the economy, business and tuition fees to a predominantly student audience in the House of Commons.
Cable’s use of the term “crisis” was not an isolated occurrence, however – he used it on several occasions throughout the evening. The increase in his vociferous rhetoric coincides, inexorably, with government’s fruitless economic strategy.
Oxymoronically, Cable said something else strange, too: “If we cut the deficit too fast we will fall of a cliff.” This self-deprecating statement by Cable doesn’t seem to hold up: the government clearly are attempting to cut the deficit too fast. Christopher Pissarides, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2010, denounced the extent of Chancellor George Osbourne’s cuts and described them as “inflexible” in a New Statesman column last week. While David Blanchflower, the NS’s economics editor, wrote: “You [George Osbourne] must loosen fiscal policy and slow the pace of public spending cuts or you will push the UK economy over the precipice.”
But things soon became even stranger. Upon being asked by angry members of the audience whether the coalition are on the right track with regards to the economy, Cable continually evaded the question – but twice mentioned: “Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling dealt with the economy sensibly.” A statement Prime Minister David Cameron will undoubtedly disagree with.
Fellow panelist John Denham said: “They’re [the government] doing too little to stimulate growth. Most of the cuts are falling on women, women with Children in particular.”
Caroline Lucas said: Government policies are making things worse, not better. It’s counterproductive. She also described the government’s ubiquitous mantra that ‘we are all in this together’ as “insulting.” Lamenting that the poor are being hit the hardest.
Cable had no qualms about blaming the banks for the financial turmoil in our country. And upon being asked what will to be done about the ‘greedy bankers’, Cable said: “We have got banking regulation in place. We have now agreed, in principle, to break up the seven big banks.”
Yesterday, the latest figures from UCAS showed a 12% drop in the number of UK applicants applying to university this September. The Green Party – in an act of clever political posturing – have stated their support for a free education system. Vince Cable and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, however, have been vehemently criticised after breaking party pledges and deciding to treble tuition fees.
After sullenly mumbling that his party had taken a lot of stick for their decision to raise tuition fees, Cable was quick to emphasise: “nobody pays fees when they go to university. The system works in the form of a graduate tax. Public spending on universities is increasing with student support, maintenance grant and loan schemes. There is more money than less going into Universities!”
What he did concede was that: “The parties used the wrong [political] language” when deciding to raise the fees.
One of the final questions of the night came from a fuming student from Tower Hamlets who described the scrapping of EMA as “evil.” He also cited a survey in his local area, which purportedly showed how much distress the cancelling of EMA has caused students. His question was thus: “What possible justification can you [Vince Cable] give for getting rid of EMA?”
Cable said: “On EMA, I share a lot of the worries. Many young people are being affected by it. There is an impact but it’s not devastating.”
The government have claimed that there is no other option apart from their proposed austerity measures. Last week, the NS published the reports of nine leading economists who disagree. It seems, perhaps, as if Vince cable does, too.
With the large group of young people Cable had to face at the House of Commons last night – who reminded him that youth unemployment is nearing 1 million, and the increasing evidence that the government’s economic position is untenable – we may start to see real signs of discord within the coalition. We need a plan B and Cable knows it.
Omar Shahid is editor of Spin (spinonline.co.uk)