The public’s attitude towards gloomy politicians is a curious one: only too happy to mock politicians who only talk up the positive but also frequently going off politicians who talk up the negatives.
It happens across all parties, as we saw in the last Parliament where both Alistair Darling and George Osborne tried talking gloomily about the country’s economic difficulties and, far from being met by public support for their frankness, saw widespread criticism and slipping poll ratings. Journalists may love knocking politicians for not having been gloomier during the 2010 general election, but all the nearly all the signs from the public had been that they did not want to hear gloom.
Vince Cable is one of the few politicians who has been able to break that pattern: warning of doom before the economic crash and being rewarded with public support as a result.
So perhaps it is not a surprise that he took a very downbeat approach yesterday at Liberal Democrat conference, laying out the scale of the economic challenges that any government would face in putting our country’s finances back together again. He soft-pedalled achievements such as the expansion of apprenticeships – set to hit record levels by 2014 with at least 250,000 extra places being created. Instead, he emphasised:
But we now face a crisis that is the economic equivalent of war. This is not a time for business as usual; or politics as usual. The financial crisis is still with us.
The political subtext is that radical financial reform must be secured – not kicking the Vickers report into the long grass – and that the habit in some firms of paying huge sums to under-performing managers needs to end – not only for reasons of social justice but also for reasons of economic efficiency. Paying huge sums to someone who is running a firm into the ground doesn’t just raise many people’s hackles, it damages the firm, hurts those who lose their jobs and undermines our economy.
As Vince Cable concluded,
In the Coalition Agreement we promised to put fairness at the heart of all we do as we rebuild our broken economy from the rubble. Liberal Democrats know that you can’t do one without the other.