Vince Cable, 69, thinks the "worship of youth" by political parties may be over

Whatever could the subtext be?

In an interview with the Financial Times today, Vince Cable made some intriguing comments about the future of the Liberal Democrats. Asked whether he would ever run for the leadership of the party, he said:

I don’t exclude it – who knows what might happen in the future.

He also said:

The worship of youth has diminished – perhaps generally – in recent years.

and hit back at attempts to portray him as far too left-wing, criticising the "macho right" of the Tories:

When I made my statement on executive remuneration and responsible capitalism, I had some of those backbenchers jumping saying this is socialism or Marxism, they just completely don’t get it.

So, to recap, Vince Cable is not ruling out leading the Lib Dems, doesn't think he's too old to do so at 69, and is keen to talk about how he speaks out on City pay and capitalism, but isn't a frothing left-winger.

Of course, none of this means he is anything less than totally supportive of Nick Clegg, who is

doing a good job and is standing up to the pressures.                                               

PS. The FT interview is well worth a read in full, if you have a subscription. There's a touching section on his two marriages and his love of "strong women:

Olympia, who died of cancer in 2001, was the first of two strong women in Cable’s life. “She would let me watch Match of the Day if I did the ironing at the same time,” the minister jokes. Rachel, the second, keeps horses in the New Forest. Today Cable wears two wedding bands on his finger.

Cable also likes working with strong women. Four out of five of Cable’s private secretaries are female, and when he recently held a meeting to discuss curbs on excessive pay in Britain’s male-dominated boardrooms, four out of the six advisers in the room were women. Cable says he does not have a deliberate policy of employing female staff, but adds: “I’ve always been comfortable working with women and I’ve had two happy marriages. Draw what conclusions you like from that.”

Vince Cable. Photo: Getty Images

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.