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 Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

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