As one of only eight Liberal Democrats who formed part of the 2010-15 Coalition Government, Sir Vince Cable was an influential figure in his party and helped to shape the funding of higher education today.
Whilst visiting Liverpool, the ex-Cabinet Minister, political guru and proud ballroom dancer met with JMU Journalism to discuss business in the North, tuition fees and the ongoing matter of Brexit.
Sir Vince, who is best known for being the Secretary for Business, Skills and Innovation in the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition, was in the city to give a talk as part of LJMU’s Roscoe Lecture Series.
Speaking in the Philharmonic Hall to students and the public, his talk on ‘Brexit and the North-South Divide’ brought forward the issues of the UK leaving the European Union and its link to the industrial strategy.
Ahead of last year’s Brexit vote, Sir Vince campaigned strongly for Remain and is concerned about the effect of leaving the EU, suggesting that there are “quite a lot of clouds on the horizon”.
He told JMU Journalism: “I mean Brexit its happening, the reality is we have got to try and see some of the positive potential. But the brutal truth is that it is very difficult to see much of an upside and it is possible to see a lot of the potential problems.
“If you take some of the big industries around here [Liverpool], there’s the car industry – Ellesmere Port; JLR and General Motors – big producers with a big supply chain. I find it difficult to see how the car industry is going to continue to function without the single market, without common rules and without a customs union.”
YouTube: Sir Vince Cable talks to JMU Journalism (interview highlights)
Looking to post-Brexit Britain, the Yorkshireman admitted that there could be an advantage to northern communities such as Liverpool. He said: “We don’t know the way it’s going to turn out. If at the end of all this Britain becomes more successful in exporting to the rest of the world, well this is a part of the country that has got export potential.”
The Liberal Democrat also spoke to JMU Journalism students about his views on the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ initiative that was forged during his time in the coalition. Sir Vince said he was “not sure what it means”, adding: “It was coined by Mr George Osborne whilst I was in the Government and it was very much his personal vehicle.
“What I hope it means is a positive view about the future of the north of England, particularly this part of England – Merseyside.”
He spoke of the recent resurgence with foreign investment, the popularity of the three universities, and big-scale building projects such as Liverpool One, but the 73-year-old conceded that the proposed HS2/3 high-speed rail proposals had created suspicion.
Sir Vince said: “I know Liverpool feels a bit upstaged when Manchester does something, but I wouldn’t take it negatively.
“The one big issue, which I think you have to keep pushing is HS3 – getting this link from Liverpool across to Hull via Manchester, a proper Trans-Pennine connection, because unless that exists, all this talk about Northern Powerhouse will be a bit academic.”
YouTube: Sir Vince Cable talks to JMU Journalism (full interview)
JMU Journalism took the opportunity to quiz the former politician on the increased undergraduate tuition fees that the Coalition Government raised to £9,000-a-year in 2010, going against the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto which stated they would “phase out tuition fees within six years” and “scrap fees for final-year students immediately” if elected.
Sir Vince admitted that trust towards the Lib Dems was dented by the U-turn when in power. He said: “I was in the middle of it all so I know the story. I mean we made a bad mistake in making this pledge and increasing the tuition fees.
“What happened was that everybody said at the time, because of this so-called fee increase, people will stop going to university. Well, the opposite happened, the numbers grew and people from disadvantaged backgrounds came in in bigger numbers. So it didn’t have the negative effects that people predicted.
“I could have made it a lot less than £9,000 but the only way to do that would have been to take the money away from the FE [Further Education] colleges,” he conceded, adding that it would have “monstrously unfair” to “cripple” the colleges for the 60 percent that do not go to university.
Despite this, he insisted that the Lib Dem spell in Government “was actually a very positive period in British history”, suggesting: “An awful lot of people who rubbished it at the time, now they’ve got a full Tory Government, and Brexit and all that, they’re thinking, ‘oh my goodness why can’t we get back to the coalition?’”
Known for his love of ballroom dancing after his appearance on the 2010 Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special, JMU Journalism asked about the possibility of him going on the show again, but he replied that Ed Balls had now perhaps stolen his thunder on the political front.
“It was something I started doing about 25 years ago with my late wife,” he revealed. “With our kids growing up we wanted to do something together, so we started going to dancing lessons.
“And then she got cancer and eventually got too ill so we had to stop. But after she died I started dancing on my own with my teacher and got up to quite a good level and I don’t know the word had got around that I was keen on dancing, so I was invited on initially to do some dancing with Alesha Dixon and then I got on to the Christmas special in 2010 with Erin Boag.”
His highlight in the ballroom spotlight was a perfect score from Strictly judge Len Goodman, and Sir Vince said: “Yes, it was good … I got a 10 from Len. Since then – even when I was in the Cabinet – I kept my weekly dancing lesson going, and I now do competitions. I go to Blackpool every few months to the Winter Gardens.”
YouTube: Vince Cable dances with Alesha Dixon (BBC Politics Show interview)
JMU Journalism TV: Kerri Fitzpatrick; Andrew Livingston; Laura Hughes; Nathan Archer; Thomas Begbie; Rebecca Cleverley; Amy Hendrie; Cara Hunter; Arun Lal; Kallem Morris; Cieran Simpson; Christella Twagirayezu; Sarah Williams; Savannah Wylde; Nuhamin Yadata