Liberal Hero of the Week #30: Vince Cable. Our Liberal Villains of the Month: 175 MPs

by Stephen Tall on February 8, 2013

Liberal Hero of the Week is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum. The series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention.

lib hero cable

Vince Cable

Lib Dem business secretary
Reason: for promoting bank reform and urging a share giveaway of RBS

The London Evening Standard’s Anthony Hilton sets the scene:

At the end of a thoughtful speech on the future of banking, given in the City [on Wednesday], Business Secretary Vince Cable delivered the throwaway line that, rather than trying to sell its stakes in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds on the stock market, perhaps Government should consider instead simply giving the shares directly to the public.

The proposal is quite straightforward. The taxpayer in the shape of the Government took stakes of 84% of RBS and 43% of Lloyds when it recapitalised them during the depths of the banking crisis. As none of the three main political parties believe the government should actually be trying to run a bank, the question arises: what to do with the shares?

They could of course be sold off, just as the nationalised industries were privatised by the Conservatives in the 1980s. However, few believe the taxpayer/government would re-coup the original money — currently, you and I as taxpayers are sitting on a paper loss of £14.5bn — so the only winners would be those in the City able to bargain a sharp deal from a government desperate to rid itself of its stake. That’s no way to regain trust in the banking system.

The alternative Vince re-visited is a neat one. Give the shares direct to every single household in the UK which applies for an allocation. If 80% of the 40-45 million people in the UK with a National Insurance number applied, each would probably get about £1,000 worth of shares. Set a floor price of, say, 100p a share. Any rise in the share price above 100p will be pocketed by the householder, with the original 100p returned to the Treasury. Individual taxpayers will benefit assuming RBS’s shares perform well; and the government/taxpayers benefits by re-couping the original re-capitalisation costs.

I say ‘re-visited’ by the way because the proposal has been put forward before. It was originally devised by Portman Capital and put forward by Lib Dem MP for Bristol West Stephen Williams in this CentreForum pamphlet — Getting your share of the banks: giving the banks back to the People — almost two years ago. It’s terrific to hear the idea is finding favour at the highest echelons of government.

lib villain mps

175 MPs

127 Conservative MPs, 22 Labour MPs and 4 Lib Dem MPs
Reason: for voting against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

It’s two months since I saluted David Cameron as a Liberal Hero for bravely speaking in favour of equal marriage in spite of the frenzied opposition of half his party. This week’s historic vote is a cause for celebration, paving the way for greater equality in the years to come, allowing individuals to express their love as they choose not as the state defines, and extending the liberty to religious organisations to recognise relationships as they see fit.

But the debate was also a reminder that there are significant numbers — in the population at large, as well as represented within parliament — who do not see this as a cause for celebration; who want to shut down the opportunity for those who’re different to they to see their choice of relationship marked; who do not, ultimately, believe in equality of all citizens in the eyes of the state. I don’t doubt their sincerity. But they are without doubt Liberal Villains for seeking to impose their own belief system on others.

* You can view our list of ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.