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27 April 2011

Cable’s attack on Thatcherism gets an airing

Scottish Lib Dem leader delivers the comments that Vince Cable dropped from a recent speech.

By George Eaton

Vince Cable’s recent call for a “progressive majority” of Labour and Lib Dem voters to support AV in order to end Tory dominance reminded us that most Lib Dems would be far more comfortable in coalition with Ed Miliband’s party than with David Cameron’s. If you want to get an idea of the loathing that some Lib Dems retain for the Tories it’s well worth reading the interview with the Lib Dems’ leader in Scotland, the aptly named Tavish Scott, in today’s Scotsman.

Scott has previously put clear yellow water between himself and Nick Clegg by admitting that the Lib Dem leader makes him “grimace”. Today, he launches a ferocious attack on the Conservatives ahead of the devolved elections on 5 May.

He declares that the Tories would have “burned Scotland at the stake” if they had entered government on their own last year and claims that Clegg has spared Scotland “the worst excesses of Thatcherism”. He adds: “We all remember Thatcherism – the poll tax, Scotland being used as a guinea pig, mass unemployment.”

But what is fascinating is that his comments are almost identical to those that Cable dropped from his speech at the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce last week. A press release of the speech given to journalists suggested that the Business Secretary would argue that the Lib Dems were preventing the Tories from “behaving like they did” under Thatcher.

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The Business Secretary was scheduled to say: “I remember the negative side of Thatcherism – the poll tax, mass unemployment and the claims that there was no such thing as society . . . That’s why I’m glad the Tories aren’t in power themselves at Westminster. We have stopped the Tories behaving like they did under Thatcher.”

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The similarities continue. Cable was also due to argue that “we stopped them from introducing their plans to cut taxes for millionaires”. In today’s interview, Scott says: “they [the Conservatives] wanted to help millionaires with inheritance tax, not help low-paid people out of tax altogether”.

Until now, why Cable decided to remove those remarks from his speech has remained a mystery. Most assumed that he simply wanted to avoid further controversy after his attack on Cameron’s “very unwise” immigration speech. But it now seems likely that Lib Dem strategists believed that the attack on Thatcherism would be more convincing if it came from Scott (who, of course, is not a member of the coalition), rather than Cable.