On the Politics Show, Sunday 25 November 2007, Jon Sopel interviewed Vincent Cable, acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats
JON SOPEL: If you were watching the Politics Show last week, well there was a rather spectacular spat between the two Liberal Democrat leadership contenders, Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne. Whoever wins, they'll have a tough act to follow; the stop-gap acting leader, Vince Cable has been winning rave reviews, leading the attacks on the government over Northern Rock and those missing benefit records, and he's with me now. Vince Cable, thank you very much for being with us. First of all on Revenue and Customs and those missing computer disks, do you accept the Chancellor's explanation it was a junior official, and frankly, there is no way to legislate against that.
VINCE CABLE: Well that's what he said and we, we need further information on who really was responsible. My concern actually is not whether it was junior or middle level officials but whether political decisions, bad political decisions ultimately led to this disaster. We do know that there were massive economies in staff which led to the department being under supervised and low morale. The particular thing which concerns me is that vast amounts of money have been spent on IT systems which have not worked, and we're not even allowed to know what's happening because the government is keeping the so-called Gateway Review secret, in order to protect the companies involved and that's what needs to be opened up.
JON SOPEL: Okay, the Conservatives are saying that Alistair Darling needs to come back to the Commons to make a statement. What do you want him to do.
VINCE CABLE: Well, there are a lot of unanswered questions and of course that's one of the unanswered questions but the particular aspect of the email that alarmed me most was that a fairly senior official in the Treasury seemed to saying that you must not spend any more money making this system more secure. And there really has been a culture of penny wise pound foolish behavior in that department.
JON SOPEL: How far away are you from saying he should resign or he should consider his position.
VINCE CABLE: We're not arguing on that particular instance. I mean there's been a whole succession of disasters this week and it may well be that his position is untenable eventually, but I mean the reason ¿ (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Do you think we're getting close to that.
VINCE CABLE: We may well be but I'm not arguing actually for Alistair Darling to go and for one major reason, that almost all of these problems and we've had a whole succession of them and it's Northern Rock and it's the lost files, we've had the Qinetic sale. We've had the criticism of defence spending. Most of these relate to decisions that were made by Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, so it's really his decisions that are coming under closer scrutiny, rather that Alistair Darling's.
JON SOPEL: Let's just talk about Northern Rock then for a minute. What do you suspect is going to happen. I know what you've called for, which is that there should be a sort of nationalization in the short term.
VINCE CABLE: Well I've argued that the least worse option, I'm not an enthusiast for public ownership, I don't want the government running banks, but the least worst option, the best way of safeguarding this vast amount of government money, tax payers money that's gone in to this, this twenty four billion, this twice the primary school budget that's gone in to - the best way of safeguarding it, probably the only way of safeguarding it, is a temporary period of public ownership.
JON SOPEL: What then happens to shareholders.
VINCE CABLE: Well, shareholders are in a very vulnerable position, but if you just - we need to think who these shareholders are. I was on the radio yesterday morning with the largest shareholder, who was a private equity investor, hedge fund entrepreneur, who had speculated. He only bought the shares a few weeks ago and now demanding that the government give him money, in order to achieve him a transfer. I don't feel any moral obligation to people like him.
JON SOPEL: Okay, not to him but there are also a lot of people who work for the company, who've bought shares under share ownership schemes within the company. There are lots of other small shareholders out there as well, who will just think, nationalization, where does that leave me.
VINCE CABLE: Well, we have to be clear about what the government's responsibilities are. The first responsibility is to safeguard this twenty four billion of taxpayers money, that's the over-riding concern. It also needs to safeguard the depositors, the millions of small savers. It has made a promise, an undertaking, that their savings will be guarantied and those need to be met. There are other obligations to the North East, the Northern Rock Foundation, this charitable foundation and I hope that something can be salvaged for them. But given that more money has gone in to this bank than probably ultimately can be retrieved, there have to be a loss and the government, the government's first priority is to protect the taxpayer.
JON SOPEL: You've also spoken about the other piling up of problems for Alistair Darling, the CBI seem to be on the warpath, small businesses suffering because of the credit crunch, also about decisions over capital gains tax.
VINCE CABLE: Well, I think the CBI's comment is a very relevant one because although we've had this succession of disasters this week, the real problem which is looming over the horizon is what's happening to the economy. I've been warning for several years, the British economy is seriously un-balanced. It's been kept going because of growing amounts of personal debt secured against a property market. We can now see that that debt is no longer sustainable, the property market is falling, we are going, we are in to a very difficult period with the economy. The specific decision on capital gains tax was just an own goal. I mean there's absolutely no reason why the government should have done it, they didn't consult business, it was done in a very cac-handed way. It was done in order to try and ¿ this anomaly that these private equity billionaires were paying a lower rate of tax than their cleaners and the irony is that after all of it, they're still paying a lower rate of tax than their cleaners; it was absurd piece of reform.
JON SOPEL: And one of the big questions about the government at the moment is over competence. How competent would you say the two leadership contenders have been, particularly in the way that they behaved last weekend when they were on the show. Before I let you answer this, I just want to play a little reminder, because they were sitting where you are now. It wasn't very edifying.
INTO LAST WEEKS POLITICS SHOW
JON SOPEL: And so it went on. What was your reaction when you saw it.
VINCE CABLE: Well, it was a bad episode in an otherwise very good natured and very professional contest. And they're very good people. I mean whoever succeeds me ¿. (interjection)
JON SOPEL: I thought you were going to say, I thought you were going to say they're very good friends.
VINCE CABLE: No, that's nothing to do with it. We're looking for competence, we're looking for good leadership. Both of them have that in abundance and I'm very happy to step down in a few weeks time and play a supporting role to either of them.
JON SOPEL: But it's an important point, how are those two going to work together, afterwards.
VINCE CABLE: This is one episode. I, I - the members tell me that they're going round the country together and this succession of husting meetings, they've all been good natured, they've all been very professional and they've all been at a very high level and I think the public out there are forming a positive view of the party. Whether it's partly due to what I've been saying, partly their own role, our standing in the public opinion polls has risen 5% in the last few weeks, we're up to 23% on one survey and this is good news. We're in a good position.
JON SOPEL: Would you agree it was not a great advert for the Liberal Democratic Party.
VINCE CABLE: Well those few seconds were not, were not good.
JON SOPEL: It was about five minutes actually.
VINCE CABLE: It, it wasn't a good episode but it's come in a very good contest and as it happens, in relation to that particular incident, Chris Huhne apologized profusely, the apology was accepted, they both moved on.
JON SOPEL: Okay, Vince Cable, enjoy your last weeks as acting Liberal Democrat Leader. Thanks very much indeed.
VINCE CABLE: Thank you.
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The Politics Show Sunday 25 November 2007 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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