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From Saint Vince to Mr Bean – A Journey

Posted on 22 September 2010 | 11:09am

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.

  • In all honesty the only politician who’s ever reminded me of Mr. Bean is David Miliband. Because he looks a bit like him.

  • SimonB

    Am I alone in wishing that we could hear a speech once in a while without knowing what’s going to be in it ?

  • Sandra

    Having taken in the reaction to the speech on Twitter and other places (although I haven’t actually heard the speech itself) I think the Saint tag might stick a little longer. I remain as baffled as I was this morning by your assertion that he’s becoming “Beanish” and can only assume you use the term not because it has any relevance to Cable but because Cable used it against Brown. A sort of “so’s your face” response but just a bit delayed

  • Olli Issakainen

    Vince Cable is not a friend of banking sector, but knows that it matters. Hence his views on immigration cap.
    But sometimes Mr Cable´s comments are inconsistent.
    Vince Cable should block Rupert Murdoch´s takeover of BSkyB and prevent it turning into Fox News, Sarah Palin´s favourite.
    Capitalism can be criticized for short-termism, irrationality, malpractice and unjustified bonuses, but it is the best system we have.
    Markets are not self-regulating as New Labour believed, so in the next version of capitalism state must regulate the financial sector more.
    Our current version of capitalism is unsustainable, unethical and addictive. It promotes profit, greed, consumption, production and competition. It cannot be sustained, but since it is so addictive we cannot let go.
    Unfortunately there is no new grand theory on offer now.
    We live in a time of mega-corporations, advertising and consumerism. And people are also obsessed with celebrity. Perhaps the Pope was right when he said that money is not everything.

  • Stuart

    Vince Unable is compromised beyond belief. His performance a few months ago on Question Time was some of the most uncomfortable viewing ever.

    He better get used to handling mocking criticism – he was certainly an expert at dishing it out.

  • Jacquie R

    I hate to knock Vince Cable because I’ve got a lot of time for him in many respects. But it’s right to expose his inconsistency, which goes to the soul of his party, and could hasten the end of this coalition. Now that they are losing the argument about the cuts, I think their demise is in sight. It does, after all, only take a handful of unhappy Lib Dem MPs to pull the plug.

  • Mark Wright

    Poor Vince. He looks like a person who’s being forced to say things because big nasty men are holding his pet rabbit hostage.

    Apparently he’s just signed to the new political reality show “I Have Integrity…Get Me Out Of Here!”. Many more contestants to come as the years unfold no doubt.

  • All Vince Cable actually said was Capitalism left unregulated is not good for growth, not sustainable and fundamentally unfair. It doesn’t take a genius economist to see he was right. Perhaps his spinning wasn’t quite as slick as New Labour’s best efforts but his message was pretty sound. Market economics – neither new nor particularly bewildering

  • Hamish

    Isn’t there a horror movie in which the afflicted guy keeps getting strangled by his own hand?

  • Guest

    Given the “spivs ” jibe I think the transformation is in the Mr Bean to Stalin (or at least Nye Bevan) direction.

  • @ Jacquie R: hope you’re right.

    Regarding whatever Camerong’s doing ‘whatever it was that was so important he couldn’t go to the UN’ – he’s probably spending some time reading TB’s memoir, only he’s a bit of a slow reader. When he wrote that sneery piece for the Grauniad referring to ‘A Journey’ he’d no doubt only read the bits pertaining to himself and the juicier bits that the papers had extracted out of context.