Vince Cable, Shell and his defenders in the press

Martin Waller gets it wrong

I have dissected the so-called "cult of Cable" in this week's magazine. Having been suitably briefed by Vince's people, Martin Waller, City diarist for the Times, calls my piece an "astonishing hatchet job" on the Lib Dems' "Shadow Chancellor":

The honeymoon is over for Vince Cable, Lib Dem Shadow Chancellor. An astonishing hatchet job appears in this week's New Statesman, in effect accusing him of complicity in the killing by the Nigerian Government of nine protesters from the Ogoni people in the south of the country in 1995, when he became chief economist at Shell.

Nowhere do I make such a claim - although I do quote campaigners and activists, who know more about the Shell scandal than Waller or I do, pointing out that Saint Vince, in his role as chief economist of Shell International, could not have been unaware of the alleged links between Shell Nigeria and the Sani Abacha military government and cannot now claim ignorance. My chief complaint relates to Cable's shameful silence on the killing of writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight other Ogoni protesters, in southern Nigeria in which Shell is alleged to have been complicit. Why has he never spoken out on this? The question still stands.

Waller continues:

Cable's office is relaxed -- "part and parcel of the rough and tumble of Westminster politics". They did point out to the writer that Cable only got involved with Nigeria a year after the executions, as part of the clear-up of the affair -- a fact that somehow failed to make it into the piece.

First, I am not a politician so I am not quite sure how my piece is part of "the rough and tumble of Westminster politics". Second, Waller, as an experienced hack, knows very well that rights of reply are often edited for reasons of space before their inclusion in a piece - there is no need for sinister or conspiratorial inferences ("a fact that somehow failed to make it into the piece"). Third, it is ludicrous to claim that "Cable only got involved with Nigeria a year after the executions" (and, in any case, how does that absolve him of any role that Shell may or may not have played?).Here is what Cable's people told me (and, in hindsight, I wish I'd had space to include it in full):

In 1996, Dr Cable contributed to a scenario planning exercise to help Shell Group and the Nigerian company decide their strategy and presented the results of the scenario planning at a summit in Abuja.

That doesn't sound like a "clear-up of the affair" - it sounds like Cable helping his employers to make more money out of its Nigeria operation despite the "affair" (Waller's euphemism for the killings). Finally, it is worth pointing out that Vince Cable's people were keen to avoid providing any detailed information to the New Statesman on his time at Shell - or his comments on the company since leaving in 1997. I asked for evidence that he had spoken out against Shell in the past - they cited a BBC Newsnight interview from 1997, without providing any quotes and asking me to go the BBC (!) to "source" the original interview. I also asked for the exact date on which Shell took his post as chief economist at Shell in 1995 - was it before or after 5 November 1995, the date on which Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed? Vince's press spokeswoman told me to "contact Shell who should be able to give you an exact date". Bizarre. Had he forgotten, I wondered, when exactly he had been appointed to the biggest job of his life? Is it credible to believe that could be the case?

Cable has questions to answer. And Waller, who specialises in fawning profiles of City slickers, now seems to have fallen in love with politicians and their PRs too. Shame.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Something has to give in Labour's struggle for power. But what?

It's difficult to see an end to the party's woes. 

Pat Glass has resigned her post as shadow education secretary, just two days after being appointed to fill the post following the resignation of Lucy Powell.  What’s going on?

Glass was a surprise appointment by Jeremy Corbyn to fill the post of shadow Europe minister following the sacking of Pat McFadden in his last reshuffle, but quickly impressed both the European parliamentary party and the Remain campaign. MEPs went from briefing that they’d had to Google her following her appointment to singing her praises.

Glass had a bruising referendum campaign, receiving serious death threats and had already told friends she would be quitting at the next election, and agonised over whether to take the position of shadow education secretary, her dream post and one that ideally suited her long pre-politics career in education and family services. Glass was firmly in the “make it work” caucus of Labour MPs, who, even as resignations were taking place on Monday, hoped that they could steady the ship.

But Glass is one of a number of MPs, including several still on the frontbench, who feel that the poisonous mood that has spread through the party makes the status quo untenable.

What’s not clear is where the party goes from here. Support for Corbyn remains strong in the membership, not least because the grassroots fears that his resignation would herald a swing to the right as far as immigration and the free movement of people are concerned. Talk of there being a candidate in the parliamentary party who the loyalists “fear” is wide of the mark – if Corbyn is on the ballot, he will win and win handily.

The difficulty then is what type of parliamentary opposition he could form. Deselection of the rebels is, as one loyalist reflected, a “2020 solution to a 2016 problem”.

My information is still that the party’s official legal advice says that Corbyn would have to collect 50 nominations from the parliamentary Labour party and the European party.

Ultimately, though, what matters is not the legal advice but the decision of the NEC. Both rebels and loyalists believe they have the numbers but the margins of error are high. (Without wishing to traduce NEC members, the urge to say the right thing to both sides and then work out what way the wind is blowing in the room is understandably strong at this point.)

Frankly, I doubt even all of the 40 MPs who voted against the no confidence motion would sign his papers, as some did so in an attempt to avert what one dubbed the “no-win scenario” the party is now in. Even if they did, he would struggle to secure the extra signatures from Labour’s members of the European Parliament. But a palace coup will have reverberations that will go on for some time.

In either case, a split looks more and more likely. Labour has exhausted the essential component for a social democratic and a socialist party forced to cohabit thanks to first past the post: goodwill, although senior figures on the loyalist side hope that a handover to John McDonnell might yet bind up the party’s wounds, while a few optimistic rebels believe that Corbyn might yet stand down and give a fresh contest his blessing.

As I wrote yesterday, the row remains a struggle between two of Labour’s iron laws – the party never gets rid of its leader, and Tom Watson always wins. A physics experiment of sorts. The problem with those is that they tend to end with explosions. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.