Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Vince Cable Tapes: part 1 - where Vince doesn't eat a doughnut

So, what were we to do? Were we fated to be squeezed into a tiny office with not enough room to swing a small, adorable kitten, or even a fluffy elephant, in?

Super Vince to the rescue, and he found us a room to occupy whilst we roasted him over an open flame, sorry, lauded him to the skies.

Everyone seated, and doughnuts distributed, we started our hostile interrogation/gentle probing. Alix wanted to clarify that our tax plans were still viable, and Vince confirmed that our principal premise - cutting taxes for most lower and middle income taxpayers by the equivalent of 4p in the pound, thus putting money into their pockets, whilst removing tax loopholes that favour the wealthy - was still absolutely solid.

It was interesting to see that each blogger had their own agenda, with questions veering from topic to unrelated topic, and Jo 'I'm a senior member of the PCA' Christie-Smith chose to start with Vince's role on the Diversity Engagement Group. Where were the signs of progress? Vince was of the view that our National Diversity Advisor was doing some very good work to assess where we are, despite various distractions. He did feel that opportunities in the urban North may enable us to elect more BME candidates.

I have to say that, in all honesty, Vince has only recently become involved in our diversity work in a meaningful way, and probably hasn't been briefed on the likelihood of this being true.
2014/15 perhaps, but not next time...

Vince fangirl Jennie was intrigued about Vince's interest in bees. Apparently there is an apiary at the end of his street and the group that run it invited him along to see. He asked some questions in the House of Commons and was given very short shrift, which so annoyed that he got more involved - this is important. He is now part of a cross-party group to raise awareness of bee diseases and the impact of falling bee populations on agriculture.

And then it was my turn. I haven't sensed that Vince or, for that matter, most senior Lib Dems, are particularly sensitive to public sector employees. I was therefore keen to probe his comments about civil service bonuses and public sector salaries. He had not expected the response he got from the local government community when he attacked the 'civil service aristocracy' who combine high salaries, job security and generous pensions. However, he understands that there are issues at the lower end of the pay scales, and is willing to work with public sector unions to address these.

My view is that, in order to get the best people to run public services, you need to pay attractive salaries. Part of the package is a generous pension, yes, but if the package is broadly comparable with the private sector, that's what you need to pay. Naming and shaming them doesn't help.

Mary was keen to elicit Vince's views on local government finance, given the unfair treatment of so-called 'leafy suburbs' in terms of the grant calculation by the Department of Communities and Local Government. Vince was clear about the lack of clarity and the weakness of the existing formulae of calculating entitlements, but expected that our policy of local income tax would help address the problem.

Time for a big issue, as Andy probed on talk of global regulation. Brown's ideas are really just evasion of the key issue. Actually, a lot of the issues can be addressed at national level by means of proper application of the Basle Rules, and proper application of the regulation regime. International co-operation allows us to avoid competitive gestures that harm us all.

Next, Millenium's daddy on the Euro - whilst there are potential casualties (Italy and Greece), the position of the UK is a precarious one. If there is a critical assessment of the public finances, the risks to sterling are high. It may be that we need to take a more aggressive stance on the Euro as an alternative to a weakening currency, but we need to see how the current crisis impacts on the Eurozone.

Helen wanted to know why Vince doesn't blog. Although Lynne Featherstone has made a strong case for him taking up blooging, the issue of time prevents from him from blogging - his heavy schedule and commitment to being available to his constituents take priority. At this point, there was a general clamour for Vince to blog. Well, except from me. I know how long it takes and how careful you need to be to ensure that it doesn't take over your life...

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