Sent by David Cameron to New York to report back on Hilary Clinton’s new hairstyle, Nick Clegg was confronted with President Ahmadinejad of Iran at the United Nations who made a passionate speech proclaiming the defeat of capitalism.  “The demands of liberal capitalism and multinational corporations have caused the suffering of countless women, men and children in so many countries”, the president declared. Mr Clegg did not travel all that way to listen to this sort of guff issuing from the mouth of an embittered and defiant leader with a fanatical following; if that is what he had wanted he could have stayed behind and listened to Vince Cable.

While clearly differing on some key issues – Mr Cable, for example, does not share Ahmajinedad’s enthusiasm for nuclear power –  the two are united by more than a shared distrust of global markets. An obvious crackpot with megalomaniac tendencies, Ahmajinedad is also described as a simple and modest man who wanted to carry on living in his own small home after being elected president until his security people stepped in and took him off to the palace. Fairly simple himself, St Vince’s own preference for modest residences led him to propose taxing anything that offended his sense of what a property should look like. Surprised that this idea for a so-called mansion tax did not play well in what he otherwise took to be the tenements and yurts of Twickenham, he has since retreated from this, his one and only policy idea, into the cheap-jack punditry that is his natural metier.  Armajinedad and Cable also share a fondness for the base and conservative pastimes of their homeland: eagerly anticipating the annihilation of Israel in the case of the Iranian president and ballroom dancing for Mr Cable.

Being, again like his anti-capitalist brother, essentially a sad man in search of attention, Mr Cable will have enjoyed the fuss that has been lavished on him for his speech to yesterday’s Liberal Democrat conference. Clegg was, as noted above, away, and Mr Cable got offered the spot vacated by his leader. From then on it was only ever going to go one way.

Like Michael Heseltine, a business secretary from a different era and a different party, Mr Cable aspired to go down as the conference darling (it is, incidentally, an interesting historical footnote that, despite obvious advantages, Alistair Darling never achieved this accolade).  Their cases are  different though. Mr Heseltine  was a businessman of some repute and  only ever aspired to control capitalism in order to channel it towards his own fetishistic interests, such as  the regeneration of Liverpool.  Mr Cable, it seems, wants to abolish it altogether.

His speech was read meat for the conference. Well not red meat maybe, because these are the Liberal Democrats we are talking about, but strongly-flavoured yak’s milk cheese certainly. A convocation that was dying on its feet suddenly came alive as the man who is supposedly in charge of business for the coalition government told them that business was essentially composed of spivs and rip-off merchants and you should no more trust them than you would buy a used academy from Michael Gove in Oxford Street. Business leaders lined up to condemn these sentiments, including Lord Digby Jones, the former head of the CBI who was, let us not forget, himself a trade and business minister in the last Labour government. More proof, if any were needed, that the Liberal Democrats are to the left of Labour on many issues.

Does any of this matter? Probably not. Much as the Lib Dems like to kid themselves that their conference has some kind of executive authority, it is in fact little more than an extended therapy session for tensed-up members keen to discover that political power hasn’t corrupted their right to be gloriously irrelevant.

As for Mr Cable, it is obvious that he belongs firmly in what Bagehot called the dignified rather than the efficient part of the constitution. He is there for show rather than for effect. It is unfortunate that he cannot also discharge a dignified role with dignity, but that sadness is his misfortune, not ours.

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