Life on Wheels – Week 71: “See you next week Vince!”

When Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, headed to a constituency surgery last week, he probably expected some form of protest would be taking place. However, nothing could have prepared him for a grilling by Ceasefire contributor Jody McIntyre. In a new blog entry, McIntyre recounts a very unusual encounter.

Jody Mcintyre's Life on Wheels, Politics - Posted on Saturday, November 6, 2010 20:21 - 1 Comment

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By Jody Mcintyre

I lasted approximately three days at University before dropping out. Clearly, it wasn’t my cup of tea.

Nevertheless, I do not appreciate seeing our education savagely sliced by a government of liars and thieves. In fact, they remind me a lot of the last government.

So after the “independent” Browne Report, written by former British Petroleum boss Lord Browne, recommended scathing education cuts and soaring tuition fees as a fair way of solving an economic crisis created by bankers and politicians, we decided to pay Business Secretary Vince Cable a call.

Twickenham was the location of Vince Cable’s surgery; after terrifying flashbacks of Week 1 of Life on Wheels, I decided to drive. I was being accompanied for the day by Christian, a cameraman-friend from Windfall Films, and we went to Twickenham an hour early, to scope out the target. There was a step to get in through the front entrance, but it was going to take more than wheelchair inaccessibility to halt this mission.

I had arranged to meet a group of around 25 students at a nearby pub, and I was impressed by the turn-out. Together, we were going to subject Vince Cable to the worst constituency surgery of his political career.

As 5pm approached, we made our way back towards Cable’s building. Myself, Christian and a few students from the local St. Mary’s University, which will be amongst the most badly affected by the cuts, walked straight through the front door.

Several more students joined us inside, with their mouths gaffa-taped and holding placards expressing their disgust at Cable’s audacity. The rest of the students were setting up tents and chanting loudly outside. Cable told his office staff that he felt “intimidated” by the protest, and the police were immediately called.

Undeterred I demanded an appointment for myself, and Siobhan, a student from St. Mary’s. They had no choice but to relent, as the chanting outside continued.

As I walked into the small office Vince Cable was sitting in, they tried to not let Christian, who was filming events, come in with us. I explained that Christian was my carer and that I needed him to help me walk. Mr. Cable then demanded that the camera was switched off, but Christian secretly kept the film rolling…

“How can I help you?” Vince’s first question was his first mistake.

“The main reason I am here,” I began, “is because I am wondering how you can justify you and your party’s complete U-turn on tuition fees, from a position of promising to scrap them, to now not only not scrapping them, but to removing the upper limit so that Universities can charge whatever they like?”

“Well,” Vince replied, “I can justify that in several ways…”

“Because it seems to the public,” I continued, “that the Liberal Democrats have been transformed from a party that strongly oppose the Conservatives, into the Conservatives’ cheerleaders?”

“That’s just a lie!” Mr. Cable angrily responded, without providing any evidence as to why it was a “lie”.

When I suggested the fact that half of the deficit could be paid off simply by collecting the unpaid tax in the country, he again said that what I was saying was “simply not true”. I pointed out that Vodafone’s documented bill of £6 billion, still unpaid, suggested otherwise.

Vince Cable was clearly not my biggest fan, and began to engage with Siobhan instead, insisting that he would be happy to have a discussion with students from St. Mary’s University “at any time”, despite Siobhan’s claims that he had previously avoided them.

“Well I’m glad you’ve brought that up Mr. Cable,” I said, “because is it not true that you were due to give a talk at Oxford University two days ago, but after you heard that students were planning to protest outside, you cancelled your visit? If the students at St. Mary’s also decide to protest, will you cancel another visit?”

According to Mr. Cable, I was being “ridiculous”.

And then came the climax of the interview (although I suspect that “the grilling” would be a more appropriate term); Vince had been repeatedly making astonishing claims that students would not be paying more after the recommendations of the Browne Report, so I decided to ask a simple question:

“Will tuition fees increase?”

“Graduate contributions will increase,” Mr. Cable replied.

“OK, but will tuition fees increase?”

“Graduate contributions will increase.”

“Look, Mr. Cable, this is really just a yes or no question; will tuition fees increase?”

“I’ve told you, graduate contributions will increase!”

I wonder why Vince Cable was being so evasive? I wonder why he cancelled his trip to Oxford? I wonder why he told police that he felt “intimidated” by the students who occupied his office in central London a week before? What is it that Vince is so afraid of?

Considering that most of the other constituents in his surgery had been dismissed after five-minute appointments, I was fairly pleased with our half-hour bombardment. As I stood up to leave, however, I could not help but to ask one final question:

“What happened to the old, anti-Apartheid Vince?”

“He’s still here!” Mr. Cable replied, somewhat unconvincingly.

“So what do you think of Israeli apartheid?” I asked.

“Well,” he replied, “that’s another conversation for another time.”

“OK then, see ya next week Vince!”

[The complete ‘Life on wheels’ archive is available at http://jodymcintyre.wordpress.com]

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Paul T.
Nov 8, 2010 15:12

Many thanks for this, I’d like to say I enjoyed it, but it just depressed me by being so reminiscent of the final scene of “Animal Farm” as Vince morphs from a straight-talking people’s politician into, erm, a total … politician.

I particularly liked the way you conveyed the extent to which any form of protest/disagreement is now stigmatized – echoes of the pensioner, Walter Wolfgang, being frog-marched out of the New Labour party conference.

“O brave new world! That has such people in it!”

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