As Steve Richards reminded us on his rather depressing Radio 4 analysis of the Brown Premiership yesterday, a memorable jibe from Vince Cable played quite a part in the political and media mood that saw the shift from from hero GB to zero GB.
It was following the postponement of the ‘election that never was,’ an unfortunate episode indeed, that Cable noted that Gordon seemed to have gone from Stalin to Mr Bean. A combination of the context, the venue (the Commons can be a deadly place when a witty bullet is fired), Cable’s ‘a rare popular politician’ standing, and his deadpan delivery, all came together to make it a jibe that really hurt.
But I wonder if it might yet come back to haunt him. Because Saint Vince is looking less saintly, and a bit more Mr Beanish himself.
When I tweeted this observation this morning, there were those who thought his whack at the ‘murky’ side of business was a Cameron-Clegg-Coulson approved gambit to appeal to traditional Lib Dems, make them feel the junior coalition partner still had a heart and a soul, whilst meanwhile Clegg could jet off to the UN to play at statesmen, and Cameron could do whatever it was that was so important he couldn’t go to the UN.
I am not so sure about that, and I am even more certain in my not being so sure about that having heard a few Cable comments and interviews driving down from the North this morning.
There was something a bit pathetic about his protestations that his pre-briefed extracts from his conference speech had been taken ‘out of context.’ I know a fair bit about the media taking things out of context, but the thing about conference speech advance briefing is that the speaker and the speaker’s briefers can easily set the context. They chose the extract. They chose who and how to brief. In effect, they write the headline. So Vince cannot be surprised by the headlines, nor the reaction cranked up by business in response to them.
The rowing back now says either they didn’t realise how that cranking would go (incompetent) or that it was a deliberate attempt to get one message for the Lib Dem conference and another for business and the public (duplicity) Either way it was not very clever and means that whatever else may be in a long and doubtless detailed speech, all that is likely to be communicated to the public is a re-contextualisation of a badly framed context.
It all confirms the suspicion that Vince wants both to be in government but give out the vibe that he also wants to be in opposition. Not a saintly place to be for the man who built his reputation on the back of plain speaking and always saying what he really thought.
** A brief PS to say how much I enjoyed meeting a group of Yorkshire-based businessmen and women yesterday to discuss mental health stigma and discrimination in the workplace. They were an enlightened bunch and though some admitted that they were broadly ignorant about mental illness, and therefore likely to be discriminatory, by the end of things they had signed up to try to do something about it. Sue Baker from Time to Change was also there and gave some encouraging signs about attitudes changing. It’s slow, but they are changing.