Belfast Telegraph

Ballroom dancer Vince Cable is not afraid to step on toes

By Margaret Canning

The Liberal Democrats' annual conference doesn't usually make the large number of headlines it's gained this year - but now that the party is a coalition partner in Government with the Conservatives, it's the hottest ticket in town.

And it's the party's deputy leader Vince Cable who has been causing the biggest stir with colourful speeches about business.

In yesterday's show-stopper, the keen ballroom dancer called bankers "spivs and gamblers" whose avaricious ways brought Britain's financial edifice tumbling down.

And even though the business secretary's speech had been run past Downing street, it still retained many controversial ideas including a proposed review of the "murky world of corporate behaviour".

Himself taking no prisoners, he declared war. "Capitalism takes no prisoners and kills competition where it can."

Echoing the criticisms of bankers made by clergymen at the Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday - but using less measured terms than those men of the cloth - Mr Cable said: "On banks, I make no apology for attacking spivs and gamblers who did more harm to the British economy than [RMT trade union leader] Bob Crow could achieve in his wildest Trotskyite fantasies, while paying themselves outrageous bonuses underwritten by the taxpayer."

The backlash came quickly, with the MP having to deny he was Marxist. Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI - which had a busy day in Northern Ireland yesterday coming up with its private sector solutions to the problems of our flabby public sector - criticised Mr Cable's emotive language.

"Mr Cable has harsh things to say about the capitalist system - it will be interesting to hear his ideas for an alternative," Mr Lambert said, pithily.

Ex-CBI chief Lord Digby Jones, who was trade minister in the last government, accused Mr Cable of behaving like a "Liberal rabble-rouser" rather than a business secretary.

And Mr Crow said he had been singled out for a dig because his union was resisting the coalition's "savage assault on jobs, living standards and public services".

If Mr Cable's speech is to be seen in the light of the party's need to appeal to its grassroots, who may feel alienated by its marriage of convenience to the Conservatives, it may be a success.

But as far as business bodies go, he may find himself far from 'invincible' when it comes to withstanding criticism.