Vince Cable questioned about tuition fees during talk at Gonville & Caius
Today’s Westminster is “inventing a new world - but it’s dangerous” claims the current Business Secretary.
by Dominic Kelly
Sunday 7th October 2012, 14:12 BST
Business Secretary Vince Cable returned to Cambridge on Wednesday evening for a short speech at Gonville & Caius College on his economic policies and to field questions from students that ranged from Keynesian economics to social mobility. The event was jointly hosted by Caius Politics and Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats in the college’s relatively-small auditorium; the room could easily been filled at least twice over with the number of politically-conscious students who had been queuing outside since half an hour before the event’s start time.
Despite the potential for animosity given the minister’s involvement in the rise of university fees, Cable received a polite, albeit not rapturous, reception. Cable, once president-elect of the CSLD’s predecessor, the Cambridge University Liberal Club, was also a Fitzwilliam College undergraduate, a NatSci before swapping to Economics and President of the Cambridge Union. Cable was accompanied and introduced by Cambridge MP Julian Huppert, a fellow Liberal Democrat. Unlike the Business Secretary, however, Huppert voted against the most recent rise in fees and has been vocal about his opposition to the changes, although he kept quiet next to his party senior this evening.
During Cable’s short speech, he insisted that "nobody really understood why our economy collapsed" but that he was certain that part of the problem was that "our banking system was allowed to become too big." In order to deal with this issue, the "government has to walk a tightrope" - too much intervention would take demand out of the economy a certain amount of restructuring is necessary in the recession's still crashing wake.
Although optimistic for the future, the Secretary was cautious, expecting the next parliament to still be dealing with its ramifications. The “out of control” financial sector served as the target for much of Cable’s ire and insisted that “the idea that you ran to the City and made pockets of money is history.” Cable's long-term plan for the country's recovery centred around the increase of aggregate demand with greater government stimulus and investment in burgeoning export industry such as aerospace.
Despite this evening's talk focusing on what Cable referred to as "economic stuff", he did lament that much of what the Liberal Democrats stand for was being drowned out by the deafening noise of the crisis, which he referred to as "the economic equivalent of a heart attack,” and took the opportunity to elucidate his position on other issues.
During the Q&A session, Cable did address the fallout around the tuition fee rises and the party’s broken pledge to not raise them. The Twickenham MP stated, “What I think we secured is long-term financial support for British universities… mechanisms we found are unpopular but the universities are certainly grateful for it.” Cable described his role in restructuring the student finance system as a “dirty job” and called the party’s infamous signing of the pledge to freeze fees as a “bad episode.” When questioned about immigration and particularly international students, Cable insisted, “We want overseas students to come to the UK… they provide a cosmopolitan mix… but there are limitations of language requirements and their ability to stay on and work.” However, he also revealed that the average British voter’s current main concern, other than the economy, was on immigration levels and was something politicians were obliged to reassure them about.
He acknowledged the current poor popularity of his party in the polls but insisted their participation in the coalition was not only for the benefit of the country, but for the party’s future, referring to it as “a big psychological step.” Unsurprisingly, the Deputy Liberal Democrats leader was coy when asked if he’d ever become leader of the party but did say he would “never say never” if there was a vacancy. In Cable’s opinion, in regards to economic theory, we live in “unchartered territories” - an exciting time for economists but a scary one. In his own words, today’s Westminster is “inventing a new world - but it’s dangerous.”