Vince Cable: ‘‘Poverty as we know it will be largely gone. The vast majority will constitute a global middle class’’

The Secretary of State for Business answers the NS Centenary Questionnaire.

What is the most important invention of the past hundred years?

Television: for me, as a platform to communicate; and for billions, a window on the world.

What is the most important scientific discovery of the past hundred years?

DNA research has opened up immeasurable life-enhancing medical applications and a better understanding of life.

What is the greatest sporting event of the past 100 years?

A quirky, personal choice: the 1955 FA Cup semi-final, York City v Newcastle United. It was the biggest, most memorable sporting event of my upbringing. And a reminder of days when David could challenge Goliath (and draw 1-1, after a goal scored by a milkman called Bottom).

Which book or film has had the greatest impact on you?

David Lean’s Great Expectations. The opening scenes haunted me for years, but made me addicted to the power of the cinema.

Which piece of music?

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 1 – a reminder of the musical family that my late wife, Olympia, created and of the education she gave me in the world’s great music. Beethoven was her idol.

Which work of art?

The entire temples of Khajuraho. I once travelled a thousand miles across India to see this masterpiece of temple art and architecture, created five centuries before the European Renaissance.

Who is the most influential or significant politician of the past hundred years?

There is little to be said for the monsters who dominated the politics of the 20th century – Stalin, Mao and Hitler – or for those who served them. One remarkable exception is Deng Xiaoping, whose economic reforms, post-Mao, unleashed the most successful era of poverty reduction and material advance in history.

And sportsperson?

Muhammad Ali. He demonstrated great physical and moral courage, as well as great skill, in the most punishing and demanding of sports.

And business person?

Ratan Tata (and his predecessor J R D Tata). One of Britain’s leading manufacturers and an embodiment of the long-term strategic thinking that lies behind a dominant business of the coming Asian century. He has maintained a reputation for ethical and honest business in a highly amoral environment.

And author?

For non-fiction, and as an economist, I am torn between John Maynard Keynes and Amartya Sen. For fiction, the greatest modern novelist never to win a Nobel prize for literature –Graham Greene.

And philanthropist?

The Rowntrees. In the city where I grew up, they created a model of responsible capitalism that influenced me greatly and which lives on. The work of their foundation on poverty is as relevant as ever.

What is your favourite quotation?

Mahatma Gandhi: “Western civilisation? It would be a good thing.” A gentle reminder that many people outside Europe do not totally share western conceit.

What is the most significant change to our lives you envisage over the next 100 years?

The most significant change in our lives will be the impact of ageing and growing life expectancy, with the dependent frail and elderly becoming a very large social group, not just in Europe, but also in countries such as China.

What is your greatest concern about the future?

My greatest concern is that the self-discipline of deterrence will no longer stop the use of nuclear weapons in a future conflict (or conflicts). And this is why we have to scale down our nuclear deterrent and work for a nuclear-free world.

In your own field of work, what will be the most dramatic development?

For the first time in history, poverty as we know it today will be largely gone. The vast majority of humanity, who will live in Asia, Africa and Latin America, will constitute a “global middle class”.

What is the most important priority for the future well-being of both people and our planet?

Making a transition from governance built around nation states to one with a strong system of global rules to deal with shared problems such as climate change and lethal weapons proliferation.

Vince Cable is Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, and MP for Twickenham

Vince Cable. Artwork by Ellie Foreman-Peck

This article first appeared in the 13 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The New Exodus

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John Major's double warning for Theresa May

The former Tory Prime Minister broke his silence with a very loud rebuke. 

A month after the Prime Minister stood in Chatham House to set out plans for free trading, independent Britain, her predecessor John Major took the floor to puncture what he called "cheap rhetoric".

Standing to attention like a weather forecaster, the former Tory Prime Minister warned of political gales ahead that could break up the union, rattle Brexit negotiations and rot the bonds of trust between politicians and the public even further.

Major said that as he had been on the losing side of the referendum, he had kept silent since June:

“This evening I don't wish to argue that the European Union is perfect, plainly it isn't. Nor do I deny the economy has been more tranquil than expected since the decision to leave was taken. 

“But I do observe that we haven't yet left the European Union. And I watch with growing concern  that the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic.”

A seasoned EU negotiator himself, he warned that achieving a trade deal within two years after triggering Article 50 was highly unlikely. Meanwhile, in foreign policy, a UK that abandoned the EU would have to become more dependent on an unpalatable Trumpian United States.

Like Tony Blair, another previous Prime Minister turned Brexit commentator, Major reminded the current occupant of No.10 that 48 per cent of the country voted Remain, and that opinion might “evolve” as the reality of Brexit became clear.

Unlike Blair, he did not call for a second referendum, stressing instead the role of Parliament. But neither did he rule it out.

That was the first warning. 

But it may be Major's second warning that turns out to be the most prescient. Major praised Theresa May's social policy, which he likened to his dream of a “classless society”. He focused his ire instead on those Brexiteers whose promises “are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery”. 

The Prime Minister understood this, he claimed, but at some point in the Brexit negotiations she will have to confront those who wish for total disengagement from Europe.

“Although today they be allies of the Prime Minister, the risk is tomorrow they may not,” he warned.

For these Brexiteers, the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations did not matter, he suggested, because they were already ideologically committed to an uncompromising version of free trade:

“Some of the most committed Brexit supporters wish to have a clean break and trade only under World Trade Organisation rules. This would include tariffs on goods with nothing to help services. This would not be a panacea for the UK  - it would be the worst possible outcome. 

“But to those who wish to see us go back to a deregulated low cost enterprise economy, it is an attractive option, and wholly consistent with their philosophy.”

There was, he argued, a choice to be made about the foundations of the economic model: “We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state. 

“Such a direction of policy, once understood by the public, would never command support.”

Major's view of Brexit seems to be a slow-motion car crash, but one where zealous free marketeers like Daniel Hannan are screaming “faster, faster”, on speaker phone. At the end of the day, it is the mainstream Tory party that will bear the brunt of the collision. 

Asked at the end of his speech whether he, like Margaret Thatcher during his premiership, was being a backseat driver, he cracked a smile. 

“I would have been very happy for Margaret to make one speech every eight months,” he said. As for today? No doubt Theresa May will be pleased to hear he is planning another speech on Scotland soon. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.