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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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

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