Don’t take it out on Vince, guys, just ‘cos you’re stuck with George

by Stephen Tall on April 11, 2010

I’ve been amused to see the rush-to-rubbish Vince Cable today among some right-wing bloggers following his appearance on BBC1’s The Politics Show.

Iain Dale (but of course) was first up to tweet: “Well done Jon Sopel for finally exposing Vince Cable as the overrated flipflopper that he is.” He was soon followed by ConservativeHome’s Tim Montgomerie, and Wall Street Journal’s Iain Martin, who has a pet-obsession with Vince’s popularity.

Having missed the show at lunchtime, I sat down nervously to catch up on iPlayer (Vince’s inteview begins about 3 minutes in) fully expecting him to be eviscerated by Jon Sopel.

In fact, what I watched was a robust interview in which Vince more than held his own, and made the key points that (1) the Labservatives have consistently opposed Lib Dem attempts to clean up our politics, and (2) the Tories need to explain how they’re going to fund their various tax-cuts if not through raising VAT.

Why have the Tories got it in for Vince?

Which left me wondering: what got Iain, Tim and Iain so excited that they dashed into the twitblogosphere to try and swing the media narrative against Vince? (Besides the inevitable election-time partisan point-scoring, that is).

It’s clear enough: the Tories are desperately worried about ‘The Vince Factor’, and how well it’s playing among the voters they think of as ‘theirs’. The idea people might trust a Lib Dem as their preferred chancellor over and above the Tories’ offering is such a shock to the system the Tories have only one answer: consistently to rubbish Vince in the hope they can tarnish his image. To play the man not the ball.

Vince’s reputation: the reality

It’s been tried before. The closest Vince’s detractors came was during Andrew Neil’s Straight Talk show broadcast last September, in which the Tory-turned-journalist tried to get the better of Vince by flinging a load of seemingly contradictory quotes at him. The problems with this approach are twofold:

    (1) Vince has never actually pretended to have been 100% right 100% of the time, despite the claims made on his behalf – indeed, it’s his very pragmatic, measured, moderate approach that has won over the British public in the last two and a bit years; and

    (2) most of the claims made against Vince – his supposed inconsistencies – don’t actually stack up when looked at objectively. Don’t take my word for it, simply read the Channel 4 News FactCheck page which last week asked Is Vince Cable’s economic reputation fully deserved? Their fair and balanced conclusion:

    Vince Cable has been widely praised – and rightly so – for warning of the dangers of Britain living off credit. But the Lib Dem eulogies need to be treated with some scepticism. Like any politician, when the facts change he changes his mind. Which goes to show that Saint Vince is human after all.

I think the Tories would do better to worry less about rubbishing Vince, and worry instead about the fact that their candidate for Chancellor, George Osborne, just isn’t up to the job, a conclusion even top Tories themselves seem to have reached.