Vince Cable talks to the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce in the Pan Am Bar at Albert Dock Liverpool.



Politics I wore a suit this morning. Before anyone reading this who’s currently being choked by their tie in a sweltering office wonders what’s so special about that, I never wear a suit. Other than my MA graduation, I only ever seemed to have worn it to job interviews - for my present position and an ill-fated visit to BBC Birmingham three or so years ago. It still has some train tickets in the pocket from a less ill-fated interview at the Royal Bank of Scotland Credit Card Centre in Manchester in 2001. But it felt important this morning, because I expected everyone else would be wearing suits and so it proved as we sat down for a breakfast meeting with our present Business Secretary Vince Cable. Who was wearing a suit too.

Organised by the local chamber of commerce, this was a fringe event to the conference and about as close I’ll be getting to the event. For all my passionate justification for being a Liberal Democrat, I’m not actually a member of the party largely because I like the role of observer too much. If I joined the party they might actually ask me to do things like hand out leaflets and that wouldn’t do. Some mild Twitter canvassing is the limit of my participation, and ad-hoc participation at that. This was simply a chance to look a favourite politician in the eye and see if he is lying. We’ll get to that later.

The breakfast consisted of a buffet of French pastries and later bacon and sausages sandwiches (brown sauce). This was not a banquet. This was an opportunity instead for local businessmen and women to ask about the changes and policies and policy changes the coalition government are putting into place, the abolition of the Regional Development Authorities (RDAs) in favour of smaller Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), the simplifying of the planning processes, making the balance in employment law between employer and employee fairer, the pressure on banks to invest and a few other issues I had difficultly following because I’m not a local businessman or woman. The room was less hostile than I expected, certainly more polite. There were moments of passion, some "delegates" with well researched, preprepared questions.

Vince is much more relaxed and articulate in person than on television where he can sometimes be a bit hesitant. He only became agitated once, towards the end when he was pressing home his frustration with the perception that the RDAs were the conduit for the likes of Europeans funding and not just the most convenient administrative body. He didn’t say much that hasn’t already appeared in interviews in print or on the radio (the gist is in this old Guardian interview), so no scoops sadly. Like any politicians he has talking points and stock answers reiterating that this new government is like a new board of directors at a failing company and that as in that scenario whatever is being done is never initially good for the workforce.

This is one of the few occasions when I’ve even been too intimidated to ask a question, largely because the question I really wanted to ask, about the change in the media’s perception of the party since they entered power was a bit off-topic and I didn’t want to break cover (feeling more like a gatecrasher as time went on). My ultimate impression was not of a man lying, but one dealing with the dichotomy of power. That ideology is inevitably stunted in government and that coalition is about compromise and that however many inspirational manifesto pledges they've made, it wasn't until they were faced with the beaurocracy that they really understood how many of those pledges and promises could be put into practice.

The Lib Dems know full well that much of what they’re doing is and will make them horrendously unpopular. But it seems, at least to me, that they’re making themselves horrendously unpopular with people who either didn’t understand what its leaders were saying during the election campaign or didn’t read said manifesto, often disaffected Labour supporters unable to grasp that the point of the Lib Dems is that they’re neither one thing or another and also in many ways a smattering of both of which ex-Labour man Vince is emblematic.

Afterwards, I chatted to a couple of very well informed people who were being directly affected by these changes in policy. They fear that the government is moving too fast, hastily putting into place changes when more considered thought might be required, and they might be right. But if meeting this secretary of state convinced me of anything it’s that we should all just wait and see and stop fearing the worst, which is perhaps the naïve view, and underscores why it’s best that I leave the politics to those other, better informed people. I'm glad we swapped business cards.

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