Thursday, March 12, 2009

Vince Interview Part 2

You join us, dear reader, sat around a table in a room in Portcullis House, wondering whether to eat another donut, and talking to Vince Cable. If you want to know how this came about, read part 1.

Next to ask a question was Millennium's daddy, Richard. He wanted to know about the Euro, and whether it was likely that the recession would unify the Eurozone or split it. Vince didn't really know, so he said so; it'll all come out in the wash. The question then is, how do we, the UK, react, and how do we stand to fare in the meantime. Vince was cautiously pessimistic about the verdict of the international currency markets when assessments of the UK's position are made, including the toxic assets that we have now taken on. It may not be good.

With that in mind, Vince reminded us that he and Nick Clegg are "well disposed" to the Eurozone, and hinted that the grass which Chris Huhne was said to have kicked the Euro into a little while ago might not be quite as long as some had imagined. If the Euro turns out to have weathered the recession well, the issue of our joining it should be revived.

Helen was up next, and asked Vince about blogging, and why he didn't do it. Vince's response, perhaps unsurprisingly, was "time", and priorities. Vince has spent a good deal of time on the MSM recently, and, whilst he recognises that the print media in particular are a sinking ship, he obviously doesn't feel it's time to cut our losses and run for the cyberspace dry land just yet. He also felt that he already got quite enough contact from people writing to him, and wasn't blogging likely to encourage more? Having said that, he was open to the idea, and praised Lynne Featherstone's efforts to persuade him of the merits of blogging.

Mary tried to offer encouragement, in the form of the information that her site gets a higher readership than Vince's constituency site does. She suggested that blogging was a good way to drive up readership of a site. Vince seemed interested in this - what was it about blogging that did this? The answer, of course, is regularity. If you can spend half an hour a day on a press release, you can spend it on writing a blog post, and with any luck, the press will just lift quotes from your blog instead. Vince pointed out that he already does post up all the press release type material on a daily basis, to which the response was that a more personal feel to the blog was key to its appeal.

It's for this reason that I have to say, personally, that I suspect if anything blogging would reduce the correspondence that Vince's office has to deal with, because the more people feel that they have real contact with someone online (the great strength of blogging), the less motivated to contact them by other means they become.

Into this mix, Alix added the observation that the LDV fringe event at conference, at which several people from the US Democratic party had described techniques that worked for the Obama campaign, had a real focus on personal stories: canvassers on the doorstep were encouraged to simply tell their own stories, of what had motivated them to get involved with the campaign. The benefits of blogging stem from the importance of the personal in politics. At least, I think that's why that was relevant!

Jo was next, for the question that we all sometimes worry about as Lib Dems: is Vince's approval rubbing off on the Lib Dems sufficiently? What could be done to improve this? First off, Vince didn't really buy any argument that the Lib Dems are especially weak at the moment, looking at where we have often been at similar points in the election cycle. In any case, he tries always to get a mention of the Lib Dems from his appearances, but he also feels that it's important not to be too tribal in his punditry, otherwise people simply wouldn't come to him for it at all.

Jennie recalled that when people tell her Vince should be leader, she's not convinced, because then we would be back in the situation that the party has fought to escape from, which is that we are perceived as a one man band. Vince agreed; there shouldn't be a return to the Paddy Ashdown days. As such, it seems to make sense to me that jitters about Vince's position in the press are a growing pain for the Lib Dems: we aren't used to there being more than one person representing us in the media, that's all. We are now fortunate enough to have Nick, Vince, and not forgetting Chris Huhne, who quite often manages to get himself on the telly 'n' that as well.

Mark wanted some investment advice next, a modern day South East Asian unit trust, if you will, but Vince wasn't biting. He pointed out that he is as fallible as the rest of us, and that if you'd asked him what to do five years or so ago, as his wife did, he would have suggested a diverse investment in stocks and shares, whereas his wife chose instead to just stick it in a high interest Nationwide account, and is all the better off for it. The point Vince did want to make was that diversity of investments is key, and that in fact, in his estimation many assets are currently under-priced, so people with the liquidity have every reason to invest at the moment.

Out of this, came a brief discussion of an issue that bothers Vince, specifically the unpleasant way that means-tested benefits effectively confiscate savings. Unfortunately, my notes on that are pretty indecipherable to me, so you'd better hope someone else writes it up better!

Mary congratulated Vince on his contributions during conference to the debate over faith schools, commenting that it was nice to hear Vince give opinions on issues other than economics. Vince pointed out that to some people in his constituency, it was unusual to think of him as a treasury spokesman; on a local level, Vince has tended to be more a crime and hospitals kind of guy.

Anyway, that's enough of that for now, but join me in part 3 for Vince reaction to the recent Game Theory story.

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