Edinburgh Book Festival: Vince Cable, "Sailing Britain Through a Storm", Review

Edinburgh Festival review
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Vince Cable with Phil Harding in the chair.
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With a hearty Edinburgh reception, Sir Vincent (Vince) Cable took his seat with Phil Harding who was in the chair for this session. Phil Harding gave his welcome and remarked that it was not very often that a former cabinet member could also aspire to be a ballroom dancer, indeed he does 'a mean foxtrot' and actually appeared on the programme Strictly Come Dancing.

Harding said that Vince Cable was obviously here to publicize his new book, "After the Storm" and no one could be in a better position to write about the political decisions that had to be taken following the financial meltdown of 2008.

Harding immediately asked, does the Brexit vote change everything?

Vince Cable said that it really depends on how the details of the move to leave are implemented; if we have a 'soft' Brexit, as proposed by Theresa May and Boris Johnson, then this should be managed without too many problems as most of the links would already be left in place.

If it is a 'hard' exit, where all the ties with Europe are broken, then it could be extremely complicated.

But the EU, with all its 27 member states, may not accept this as they themselves have similar problems involving a part of their state.

This could lead to a very difficult period, particularly with Ireland which has a shared border to the north.

As there are already those calling the situation a 'betrayal' this may force everyone into making the change a 'hard' option in which case, he predicted, it could lead to an economic 'bloodbath'.

Turning to the banks, Harding asked if they were under control?

Cable felt that they were - temporarily. Remember that only eight years ago we had problems with four major banks and two almost collapsed. When Cable was in government he said that he did lay plans to separate the investment banking side (the casinos as he called them) from the private banking side.

What we have to appreciate is that banks create money, but people have to play by the rules. All that it requires is for someone to be too greedy and then we could have another crisis, however, by 2019 the division between investment and retail should be in place. The banks are lobbying hard, but the new regulations should be immovable. There was a plan to take the Bank of Scotland and Natwest and make them a part of Williams & Glyn, but the banks have been allowed to get away with this one.

Cable was asked why we have not jailed some of the bankers? In Iceland they have apparently jailed some twenty seven bankers, but the legislation did not exist at the time to take this action, although the legal framework has now been put in place.

What is needed is a sort of co-operative which will lend money to build houses as it seems foolish that banks will lend money to buy houses, but will not lend money to build them. Cable contrasted the situation where the government had a target of 150,000 houses to be built in a year, but previously the target was 400,000 houses.

Cable was questioned about his relations with George Osborne and what were referred to as 'cynical politics' at the top of government. He did say that probably Cameron and Osborne were perhaps the two most clever people in the cabinet. He added that there was a huge amount of inequality and, discounting the super-rich, the top ten percent had not improved their position over the years. He felt that to some extent those living on a state pension were doing rather better than most with their two and a half per cent annual rise.

On China, he asked: if it was ever to get into some problem and started cutting back, would China become more inward looking? If it did, then the consequences could be felt across the world.

When asked about the new Cabinet he felt that they were 'the best of a bad lot'!

On the Brexit vote he felt that we have not yet felt the full impact of the vote as nothing has happened.

Cable admitted that John Smith had been his mentor and he felt that he knew Scotland as he had worked in Glasgow for several years and was actually a Labour Councillor in the city, so when it came to Brexit he thought that Scotland felt that it had been 'shafted' by voters in England.

Of his own political future, he felt that Nick Clegg had run a good campaign but with the Conservative Party targeting LibDem seats the result was inevitable.

He was asked if he had any advice for Ed Balls who was about to appear on Strictly Come Dancing. Cable thought that he would enjoy it, as he had when appearing on the Christmas show. It would be the making of Ed Balls!

After the Storm: The World Economy and Britain's Economic Future(May 2016) by Vince Cable is published by Atlantic Books