Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Vince Cable: The Storm - Richmond Theatre

Vince Cable: The Storm
Reviewer: James Higgins

As part of Richmond's eighteenth annual Book Now Literature festival, Vince Cable MP took to the stage to discuss his surprise bestseller, The Storm. Vince Cable has been MP for Twickenham since 1997, is Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor and Deputy Leader. Increasingly over the last few years he has been seen as a political heavyweight and his substantial economic knowledge and common sense opinions have become much sought after in the Media during the turbulence of recent months. The Daily Telegraph have described him as 'Sage of the credit crunch', 'The man who gives politicians a good name' (Rory Bremner) and 'The undisputed heavyweight champion of the credit crunch in parliament' (Robert Peston)

After studying Natural Sciences and Economics at Cambridge Dr Cable had several high profile jobs before becoming an MP. He worked as a Finance Officer for the Kenyan government in the 1960's, as Special Advisor to the British Government industry spokesman in the 1970's before ending up as Chief Economist at Shell in 1995. The Storm was written rapidly over the summer recess from parliament in 2008 as the dark economic storm clouds began to gather over the City and throughout the World.

Vince Cable began by explaining the events and causes of the current Recession or Credit Crunch which is the topic of his book The Storm. He came across as very clear, calm and coherent and addressed the relevant factors one by one. He told us about some of the things that history has taught us with regards to economics and explained how perplexed he was that some people in authority chose to ignore what the data was pointing towards. He told the audience that it would be easy just to blame 'Gordon' but on the whole said the Government had broadly done the right thing (with the cash injections) since the collapse of Lehmann Brothers and the subsequent crash. He didn't seek to gain political advantage with his views and opinions which was magnanimous to say the least given what has happened and the many things he turned out to be correct on.

Back in 2003 he pointed out to then Chancellor Brown the dangerous levels of mortgage debt in the UK and the bubble in the housing market that was beginning to emerge. Gordon Brown famously told him to stop being alarmist and ignored all his advice. He was quick to point out that though he was one of the few people that warned of various dangers and flawed policies even he never saw quite how bad the storm was that began to break in America and blew through to the UK and the World. Several analogies were then used whilst explaining complex technical terms like leverage, toxic debt, mortgage backed securities and various banking jargon in order to get the audience to understand what had happened. Derivatives and Investment banks became a sausage 'factory' that had become contaminated and had a 'casino' attached !

The banking industry was 'the patient' who was still on life support after a 'heart attack' but was now more stable. We learnt how the UK banks were just 24 hours from complete meltdown at one point. He then explained where he thought the economy is now and how there are two opposing camps, one that thinks it is business as usual again with house prices rising etc and the other that thinks it may take much longer for economic recovery. His local constituents were given a mention whilst we learned how a lack of credit affected businesses and how 10% of shops even in wealthy South West London were going to the wall. A positive side was also given of how a Teddington firm was booming thanks to the green economy as it made wind turbine parts for export and was cash rich.That concluded the first half of the show and everyone was now up to speed with world economics and dodgy bankers !
After the interval it was questions from the audience and they came thick and fast. There were some really great questions from the floor including ones on entering the Euro zone, the new World superpowers, global warming, general economic recovery, reforming banking and one from a Geologist enquiring as to how much oil was left and how it would affect inflation etc in the future.

Vince carefully considered each question in turn and delivered answers eloquently and without hesitation. Even though he expressed an opinion that there was more oil left than people thought (due no doubt to the influence of those he still knows in the industry) to his credit he did explain how that will be irrelevant as we switch to green alternatives to lower carbon emissions and begin to save the planet.

In all a very enjoyable evening of intelligent and intellectually stimulating entertainment, and all this from a man who actually emerged from the MP's expenses furore with dignity and integrity. It turns out that he doesn't have a second home or claim all his entitlements and has also turned down a pay increase, he doesn't even own a duck island. My vote definitely goes to Vince Cable, we really could do with him as PM !
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