On the Politics Show, Sunday 14 June 2009, Jon Sopel interviewed Vince Cable MP
JON SOPEL: Vince Cable is with us now. How you feeling?
Vince Cable MP
VINCE CABLE: Very well thanks to some very, very high standard health care in St Thomas's hospital on the NHS.
JON SOPLE: Excellent. So I don't know whether you were able to watch the sort of spat that took place between Tories and Labour this week over public spending.
I just wondered how, distant from the Commons, what you made of it?
VINCE CABLE: Well it's a very artificial argument, I mean we're talking about these growth figures which are based on a base line that the government itself has established which does involve real cuts in services and involves savage cuts in public investment.
I think that the trap that Tories have fallen in to is that they're promising immediate cuts when we're still in the middle of a recession, rather than talking about the next ten years, when we are going to have to make some very, very tough choices about spending priorities.
And where the Liberal Democrats are coming and how we try to influence the debate, instead of talking about these aggregate numbers about whether it's 10% in the NHS and 7% somewhere else, is actually identifying the big specific areas of government spending where the tough choices are going to have be made and get a public debate going on them.
JON SOPEL: Yes, but getting a public debate going on, you know we've kind of had this kind of mantra over the past few weeks that we must be candid with the British public particularly after the loss in trust and expenses scandal and all the rest of it.
And yet it still seems to be that people have been pretty disingenuous maybe on both sides, over what is in store after the next election.
VINCE CABLE: That's true and let me just be more specific because as you say, there is a lot of hypothetical discussion about vague numbers that don't mean very much.
At the last General Election, we tried to clarify the debate by identifying quite big areas of government spending like the Baby Bond scheme, the Euro Fighter's contract, subsidies to industry, subsidies to big farmers, which we said in a tight budget you've got to make cuts in these things.
We're now saying, let's look at much bigger things like public sector pensions, like the tax credit scheme. These are big - there are big commitments there but they're going to have to be reined back, some of the big defence contracts, the principle of admitting one in every two young people to university. These are the big questions where strategic decisions are going to have to be made which involve vast amounts of public expenditure.
JON SOPEL: And you've also said that anyone earning over £27,000 a year will pay more, that's an awful lot of people isn't it?
VINCE CABLE: No, we haven't said that at all. I mean are we talking here about taxation.
JON SOPEL: Yeah.
VINCE CABLE: In terms of taxation, what we've argued is that people on very low incomes, raise their threshold, lift them out of tax.
People on average income would get tax cuts because we want to see the threshold rate for income tax and the people at the very top end of the scale, who benefit substantially from tax relief, very low rates of capital gains tax, pension relief at higher rates of tax, that these people would have to pay more in order to cut taxes for people at the bottom and middle income.
JON SOPEL: Yes, but if you take in to account national insurance and everything else, at what point do you start paying more tax?
VINCE CABLE: Well there isn't a point because if we're talking about the removal of tax reliefs like Capital Gains Tax, there is no cut off point in that sense but the vast majority of people would actually pay less tax under our proposal but I just want to stress that our tax proposals are, in the jargon, they're tax neutral, it's actually taking from one group and helping to cut taxes on people on lower and middle income, so we're not talking about an overall tax cutting agenda in this environment, the budget wouldn't allow it.
JON SOPEL: In this tough environment, where public spending is a major problem and the Liberal Democrats are committed to the idea of ability to pay, why are you still carrying on with the policy of the abolition of tuition fees?
VINCE CABLE: What we're arguing in relation to universities is that you know, there are people who should have free tuition. If you came from a poor background, if you qualify, you achieve a higher standard of admission to universities then you should have free tuition and that's a matter of right.
The issue about how you afford it, in a very tough environment for public spending, is it's a question of how many people actually go to university, so the question is whether you deal with it through fees or by restricting numbers and the latter has to be the way forward I'm afraid.
JON SOPEL: Yeah. But if I were eighteen old, a distant memory and I was going to university, I'd only start paying the loan back when I was earning.
VINCE CABLE: That's correct.
JON SOPEL: So isn't that a fair system?
VINCE CABLE: It isn't fair because what has happened to very large numbers of people and we've seen the recent statistics in recent months that quite a lot of people of modest means are now being discouraged from going to university, even though they've got the appropriate levels of public
JON SOPEL: But if you go to America, this is absolutely accepted that you get a loan to get yourself through college, the chances are at the end of college you're going to get in to a better paid job and that's when you start paying it back.
VINCE CABLE: Yes, well very large numbers of people in the United States, at the Ivy League universities and elsewhere go free and they get free tuition because they're poor or because they've got very high academic qualifications or being they're doing something which is very useful to the country and that's the kind of model that seems to make sense to me.
JON SOPEL: Let's talk about the political fall out from the elections that we've had and I don't know whether your appendix kept you away from the cameras and problems after those elections. The Liberal Democrats always do well when the two main parties are not that popular. In the European elections, you came fourth.
VINCE CABLE: Well we did last time. We did extremely well in the local elections. As you probably know, we got 28% of the popular vote. We came second, comfortably second, well ahead of Labour
JON SOPEL: Lost Devon and Somerset.
VINCE CABLE: And we won Bristol, a major city. We did very well in the local elections, nobody detracts from that. The European result was not brilliant but it was pretty much where we were last time.
But if we'd got one or two per cent more, we'd have been claiming, and you would have acknowledged a major break-through, so I think there was a big, big contrast between what we did with local elections, which was very impressive and a very good indicator of how we will do in the subsequent (interjection)
JON SOPEL: In this spirit of candour and being open with the public, I mean why do you think you did so badly in the European elections?
VINCE CABLE: We didn't do badly relative to what we did last time. If you remember middle of the Iraq War,
general election, we did well. We didn't do particularly well in the European Elections last time.
We did roughly the same this time and what happened and it happened to everybody, there was a lot of public anger and they expressed it by voting for you know, minor parties who, particularly in the case of UKIP have done well in previous European elections, so it was a very usual election but where we're strong on the ground, we've campaigned on the ground, we've got record in local government as we did in local government elections, we do much, much better and we will do very well in the forthcoming General Election.
JON SOPEL: Vince Cable, nice to have you back, you're looking well. Thank you very much for being with us. Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH VINCE CABLE
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The Politics Show Sunday 21 June 2009 at 11:00 GMT on BBC One.
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