Rise up against ‘King Vince’!

Vince Cable’s performance in last night’s debate confirmed that he is the unofficial spokesman for a nasty petit-bourgeois outlook.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

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Topics Politics UK

Alongside Piers Morgan’s TV career and the disappearance of Wimpy restaurants, one of the great mysteries of modern British life is the popularity of Vince Cable, economic spokesman for the Liberal Democrats. He might have the attire, demeanour and nasal whine of a geography teacher in a collapsing comp, but the media can’t get enough of him. ‘King Vince was the runaway winner of the first major televised debate of the General Election campaign’, gushes this morning’s Guardian, becoming a fully signed-up member of what one journalist has labelled ‘the cult of Cable’.

Another columnist calls Cable ‘the best prime minister we never had’. Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys – and apparently ‘pop stars don’t come sharper than Tennant’ – said in an interview with the Spectator: ‘You know which politician I wish was prime minister? Vince Cable. You like him, too, don’t you Chris?’ (as in Chris Lowe, the other Pet Shop Boy, the one with the hats, who never speaks). One BBC radio presenter has described Cable as ‘the most popular man in Britain’.

BBC staff should get out more. Cable’s popularity might be soaring among the hacks who patronise parliament’s tearooms, but there are no heaving crowds who want to vote him in as PM or crown him ‘King Vince’. Cable’s career is built on two things. First, like all good geography teachers, he’s good at storing facts in his head and producing them on demand during televised debates – though as his performance in last night’s debate reminded us (please take note, Stephen Fry), ‘knowing stuff’ is not nearly the same thing as being an intellectual, far less a visionary. And second, he once said Gordon Brown had made a ‘remarkable transformation from Stalin to Mr Bean’, which was popular, and also ironic, because if Mr Bean ever spoke he would surely sound exactly like Vince Cable.

Cable’s popularity is really an indictment of the state of modern British politics. It is only in an era of completely dumbed-down political debate and spin-over-substance that someone like Cable can appear as a King, a Sage (the ‘Sage of Twickenham’ some people call him), possibly even a Messiah (as a fan says on Cable’s Facebook page: ‘Vince Cable = Britain’s Messiah. I am 16 and even I feel that VC is the only man to save this country’). One of the most depressing things I have ever read was the New Statesman’s editorial following the inauguration of Barack Obama, which said: ‘When we turn our eyes back to our domestic politicians, any comparison is bound to prove dispiriting, [but] quiet lustre at Westminster is not entirely lacking. An unlikely popular hero has emerged from the Liberal Democrat benches in the tall, unspun form of Vince Cable.’ That’s right, Vince is apparently the closest thing we have to a British Obama, an argument so bizarre that I’m sure Obama has good grounds to sue for defamation of character.

It is the British media’s desperate search for a politician of substance that draws them to Cable, so that his bean-counting prowess is mistaken for keen intellect and his rather dowdy appearance is taken as a sign that he is pure and unspun. The other key thing the political-watching elite loves about him is what he represents: the whiny, self-pitying, ambition-hating, put-upon outlook of the middle-class taxpayer. Cable is really the unofficial spokesman for that section of society that feels estranged from (and afraid of) the unpredictable working class and which also feels uncomfortable with the flashy wealth of the business and upper classes. As he said in last night’s debate, he is not ‘beholden to either the super-rich or the militant unions’. He referred to bankers as ‘pinstriped Scargills’, in the sense that they are ‘holding the country to ransom’ in the way Arthur Scargill, head of the National Union of Mineworkers, allegedly did in the 1980s.

Here we can glimpse the nasty petit-bourgeois politics of the Cable cult, those people who imagine themselves squashed between the greed of the richer, higher classes and the apparently unreasonable demands of the potentially militant lower classes. For Cable and his keen followers in the media, it is precisely their aloofness from the two classes of old, from the rulers and the workers, which gives them a special insight into how society should be more rationally organised. Considering themselves untainted by any association with the traditional elite or any shoulder-rubbing with the mob, theirs is an entirely cut-off, elitist outlook, where they can flit casually between slating the greed of the super-rich and the ransom-style demands of the working classes.

That adds one more reason to why Cable is not my hero: he cannot even see how society has changed and the fact that there is no longer any great ideological clash between a wealth-worshipping elite and militant workers. Nonetheless he keeps the fantasy alive, because it boosts his claim to be the Sage of British politics, the elevated one with designs on putting both the rich and the grubby people in their place. No wonder they call him ‘King’.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his personal website here.

Previously on spiked

Mick Hume looked at the Mr Beans of British politics. Sean Collins criticised the new-found faith in John Maynard Keynes. Tim Black wondered what it took to be the British Obama. Daniel Ben-Ami argued that blaming bankers glosses over long-term economic decline. Or read more at spiked issue British politics.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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Topics Politics UK

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