VINCE CABLE cheered the nervous Lib Dem faithful when he urged them to keep fighting for higher taxes on the rich and against tuition fees in his endof- conference speech.
The Business Secretary’s rousing address appeared to open up a clear divide with party leader Nick Clegg, who has appealed for his followers to accept their “shared agenda”
with the Conservatives.
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Significantly, Mr Cable’s speech – in which he announced Royal Mail workers would receive at least ten per cent of shares, when it is privatised – was far more warmly received.
Where Mr Clegg heaped praise on David Cameron, his most popular minister told the conference of the frustrations of being “in bed with the Tories”, adding: “It’s exhausting By Rob Merrick Political Correspondent firstname.lastname@example.org because you have to fight to keep the duvet.”
Admitting the coalition “isn’t much fun”, Mr Cable said: “To hold our own, we need to maintain our party’s identity and our authentic voice.
And he told the conference: “Your role is crucial. In government, we are trying to put Lib Dem ideas into action.
Your job is to keep us honest.”
Mr Cable pledged to continue to press for higher capital gains tax and hinted he would revive his proposal for a so-called mansion tax on the rich, who enjoyed “an extreme concentration of wealth”.
He also refused to backtrack on another clash with Conservative ministers over a graduate tax to replace fees, saying: “I am doing everything I can to ensure that graduate contributions are linked to earnings.”
Mr Cable attacked snobbery in higher education, arguing a degree from Teesside University should be given the same credit as qualifications from the elite Russell Group institutions.
Speaking in New York, where he is attending a United Nations summit, Mr Clegg dismissed any suggestion of a split, saying: “We are grown-up about this. You don’t control every noun, adjective and adverb of everybody’s speech.”
But Mr Cable’s pre-briefed attack on unrestrained capitalism – he announced an inquiry into “the murky world of corporate behaviour” – triggered a furious reaction from business leaders.
Ahead of the speech, Digby Jones, the former CBI director general, accused him of behaving like “a Liberal rabble rouser” and warned investors would be scared away if they were made the “whipping boy”.
But Mr Cable refused to back down, jokingly referring to his fellow Lib Dems as “comrades”, saying he made no apology for attacking “spivs and gamblers”, who he said did more harm to the British economy than transport union leader Bob Crow could have done “in his wildest Trotskyite fantasies”.
Mr Clegg was also forced onto the defensive over Trident, when Defence Minister Nick Harvey vowed to prevent the final decision being taken about replacing nuclear subs until after 2015, to create a “headache” for Labour.
Scenting blood, Labour condemned any delay “just to score political points”, saying: “The Liberal Democrats need to grow up and start acting like a responsible governing party.”
On Royal Mail, Mr Cable said a Bill, expected next month, would allow staff to benefit from “the largest employee shares scheme of any privatisation for 25 years”.
■ LIBERAL Democrats in Redcar scooped a conference award for handing out the biggest General Election thumping.
Nick Clegg presented the prize – a bottle of House of Commons champagne – to the town’s MP, Ian Swales, and three local party members, at the Liverpool conference.
It followed their achievement in defeating Labour’s Vera Baird, with a stunning 22 per cent swing – the biggest achieved by any Lib Dem candidate in Britain.