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- Listening Length: 12 hours and 22 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Audible Studios
- Audible.co.uk Release Date: 1 Nov. 2010
- Language: English
- ASIN: B004A93NE2
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Free Radical: A Memoir Audiobook – Unabridged
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Views differ too over quite where on the political spectrum Vince Cable should be placed. As left-wing former Labour councillor with a line in anti-City rhetoric? Or a keen believer in free markets who wanted to abolish the Department of Trade and Industry? Cable himself admits the contradiction, pointing out how during his time working at Glasgow University and serving as a Labour councillor in the city he was arguing for socialism in the council chamber whilst teaching the virtues of free markets in the lecture hall.
The ambiguity of his political positioning is nothing new, and the book traces its origins to his time as an economist working on development issues in Africa. Cable eloquently recounts how that left him with a passion for improving society mixed with a distaste of the corruption and waste that can flow from centralised government planning and diktat. Crony capitalism as much as communism attracts his scorn.
What also come through clearly in the book is Vince Cable's individualistic instincts. He is a sociable and popular figure, frequently charming, but as his account shows is more comfortable in solitary roles that put him against the majority; he is a natural outsider rather than an insider. It is tempting to draw a parallel with his personal life. His marriage to Olympia was disapproved of by many relatives, casting them off in married life mainly on their own. Later her tragic struggle with cancer and her insistence that other people not be told of it against meant it was often a case of the two of them, and not many others, against the world.
So too in politics, where it has been the roles of `one person against the world' in which Vince Cable has prospered, both in his warnings about the state of the British financial system and economy ahead of the crash and in his highly successful stint as interim party leader. As the rest of the party was struggling through a leadership contest, he was off on his own being leader and holding things together in the face of a wave of challenges.
Not quite fully on his own, and to his credit Vince Cable frequently names and praises those backroom helpers and advisers who are so crucial to a politician's success. People such as Puja Darbari, Malinda McLean and Andrew Reeves get their much deserved mentions and accolades. Also featured is the subject of the late Andrew Reeves's favourite casework anecdote - the man who said he had invented an invisible battleship which was stolen from him by the Ministry of Defence and moored in the Thames outside the Houses of Parliament. Alas, Andrew never did get the chance to offer to meet him on site to inspect the battleship.
Cable's character traits were present early in his life, as when he field tested many different churches in search of God. He says that he found which had the best buildings and the prettiest girls but God proved elusive. That sense of intellectual curiosity, investigating options rather than accepting traditions, emphasising individuality and being an outsider to other people's cosy clubs has run all through his political career.
much of the rest is a very mixed bag. University life could have done with being expanded upon. His early years working, and getting into local politicsin Scotland are also well described and retain the interest.
but there is far too much impersonal detail in much of the rest. In short, not nearly enough of the personal ( with two wives and children the material is there but is never really adequately explored.
instead there is acres of arcane memories of his time at Shell and a very brief glossing over of current day lib dem politics and views on the coalition members (best bit is his view (I paraphrse!) that Osborne is an economic illiterate.
There is a brilliant book trying to get ot but, unfortunatley, doesn't quite make it.
It was surprising to learn that Cable, who lectured at Glasgow University, was a member of the Labour Party at the same time that Martin arrived on Glasgow council. His political career went in fits and starts with commitment to the Liberals at Cambridge University and a switch to Labour in Glasgow. When Cable left Glasgow in the mid 1970's he walked away from politics and found work in the Foreign Office which gave him an insight into the way in which the civil service functioned. He worked as a special adviser to John Smith at the trade ministry but even Smith's contacts in Labour were insufficient to whisk him into Parliament. His return to the Liberal ranks arose as a consequence of the antics of the Far Left which spawned the formation of the SDP. Had he remained in Glasgow he may have remained a Labour supporter but Labour's internecine warfare in the capital was decisive in pushing him out of the Party, though not without regret.
Cable worked for the Kenyan government for two years claiming, "I cannot say, in all honesty, that I made a major, or even a positive, contribution to the development of Kenya. But Kenya made a massive contribution to mine." Cable's descriptions of the main political figures of the country are brief, candid and accurate, including the way in which whites and Africans shared a common detestation of Asians. His internationalism was reinforced on a personal level when he and his Kenyan born Indian girlfriend, Olympia, married in the teeth of opposition from the older generation in both sets of families. He worked for the Office of Overseas Development and the Commonwealth Secretariat. His knowledge and reputation resulted in his being head hunted in his mid forties to work for Shell International becoming its chief economist.
Although by 1987 Cable had concluded that he was unlikely to get into Parliament, a decade later was elected as MP for Twickenham. Re-elected in 2001 his success was overshadowed by the knowledge that his wife was in the final stages of cancer. She lived long enough to see him returned to the House and his description of her last months is filled with understated emotion. Although he remarried three years later he wears rings from both his marriages. Commenting on love he notes wryly, "We are rarely told that people in their fifties, sixties, seventies and even eighties fall in love...I now know that those things are untrue." He accepts the fact that both wives made sacrifices so he could pursue his "obsessive interest in my work as an MP".
Once in Parliament Cable sussed out the most effective use of time, maximising his opportunities while paying attention to local issues to maintain his majority. He regards this as important because the post 1997 Parliament is in his eyes, "an august institution much diminished in status and influence". He saw three LD leaders step down and quickly decided that his age was against a personal bid for the top spot, despite deputising with some style as acting leader after Ming Campbell's departure. He is, it seems, content with his present role in the LD hierarchy.
He observes, "A century on from Lloyd George's 1909 budget there is an urgent need for an approach to fiscal management which is honest, disciplined and redistributive". He concludes that "this is no time to quit," within the context of a belief, however tenuous, that the LD's can play a role in developing national policies so the country is not run by "charming but utterly inexperienced young men armed with only a sense of entitlement to run the family estate." Objectively, any future government of all the talents would invariably include Vince Cable as Chancellor but the chances of that happening are as remote as other politicians writing as good an autobiography as Cable has provided. Five stars.