China today and tomorrow

China : Time for New Realism

23 January 2010

Charles Grant, of the Centre for European Reform, has written - not for the first time - a very timely and prescient essay on the growing disenchantment of the democratic world with the Middle Kingdom. David Rennie in his current Bagehot column in the Economist has a good take on it too.

The problem arises from the fact that China has fused communist authoritarianism with capitalist development.

The old belief that market capitalism would inevitably lead to more freedom is now under question. Chinese nationalism helps shape unilateral nationalist responses with the US responding to China without reference to other democracies. The EU cannot find one voice. Japan is silent. Russia would like to have Chinese economic development and Chinese political authoritarianism as Moscow de-aligns itself from a European future.

All that is needed is a flash point - Uighurs, Taiwan, Indian frontiers, north Korea, oil fields in seas close to China - and China decides to use military force in a major way and faces a response. At that point the world starts to close markets and take other action.

As with Japan in the 1930s a cornered China that wants access to western markets but refuses the multilateral obligations of being part of an integrated global geo-eco-market-rule of law world system can be very dangerous.

Meanwhile there are 300 million Chinese over 60 without adequate incomes or social and health care cover. China is getting old and rich at the same time. But Chinese wealth is not being used to build more fairness or to bind in all Chinese. Is this sustainable indefinitely?

Do we have too many China boosters like Martin Jacques or Mark Leonard who are like those writing 'Japan as No 1' books three decades ago? We need more Bill Emmots who have sharper eyes and ears to explore what may be going awry in China.

Hamas supporter to preach hate to Birmingham University students

Press release

Preacher of hate and supporter of suicide bombing to speak at Birmingham University

20 January 2010

Former FCO minister, Denis MacShane MP, said:

"On Monday I wrote to the Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham University drawing his attention to a Jew-hater and propagandist for terrorist jihad and suicide bombings who had been invited to speak on campus. I did so after public concern about Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Delta Airlines failed suicide bomber, who had been indoctrinated into his hates as an activist in the Islamic Society of University College, London.
“Today I raised the issue in the House of Commons and received the following reply from the Prime Minister:

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Is the Prime Minister aware that Mr. Azzam Tamimi, a preacher of hate who has boasted on the BBC about his support for suicide terrorist bombing and hatred of Jews, has been invited to speak on the university of Birmingham campus? Professor Eastwood, the University’s Vice-chancellor, defends that by saying that it is a matter of freedom of expression. Does the Prime Minister agree that freedom of expression, which is vital, is not the same as providing a platform for hate? We have to shut down those incubators of hate against our values and against the Jewish people?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend raises an important point about how our universities will respond, over time, to an attempt by some people to use them as a breeding ground for extremist activity. We must always get right the balance between the academic freedom that is at the heart of what universities are about and the maintenance of security in our country. I know that most vice-chancellors want to play their part in helping us to do that.

Following the PM’s intervention MacShane said : “I also talked to the Universities Minister, David Lammy, after my exchange with the PM about Birmingham University and he assured me he would look into this case. As the story below from today's Birmingham Post shows, the University of Birmingham is in complete and utter denial about the threat to freedom posed by allowing a preacher of anti-semitic hate and jihad to speak. The University is behaving in an utterly irresponsible way. Sadly there are no limits on freedom of speech for those who preach hate against Jews, from Nick Griffin to militant Islamist jihadis. The question is whether one of our universities should provide a platform for this hate doctrine. The debate is not about dialogue or freedom of speech but about our universities incubating doctrines that can destroy the lives of those who decide to follow the path of Islamist suicide-bombing. Professor Eastwood has decided that the University should be where a spokesman for anti-Jewish and anti-democratic hate can have his say. I hope no young student is influenced by this evil ideology and decides to follow the speaker's endorsement of suicide bombing murder of Jews. if so the University of Birmingham will bear a heavy responsibility."

Birmingham Post, 20 January 2010

"University of Birmingham invites Hamas supporter to speak to students"

by Jonathan Walker
The University of Birmingham has been accused of allowing “a notorious Jew-hater and supporter of terrorist attacks” to speak to students at an event on campus.

MP Denis MacShane has written to the university’s Vice Chancellor urging him to cancel a planned talk by Azzam Tamimi, a Palestinian-born academic and supporter of terror group Hamas.

But the university has refused to intervene, saying the talk should go ahead in the name of freedom of speech.

Dr Tamimi has been invited on to campus by the University of Birmingham Islamic Society, which has organised a seminar to commemorate the Israeli invasion of Gaza 12 months ago.

The society, which has also invited Labour elder statesman Tony Benn to the event, said the invitation did not mean it agreed with all his views.

He is a supporter of Hamas, the Palestinian organisation which organised suicide bombings against Israel from the early 1990s until 2005.

In an interview with the BBC in 2004, Dr Tamimi defending violence against civilians, saying: “We don’t call it violence, we call it legitimate struggle, we call it jihad.”

Asked specifically about suicide bombs which killed civilians, he said: “If the Israelis want it to stop, it can stop today.

“It doesn’t make me feel better to see anyone killed but if you come and kill me and kill my children and drive me out of my land, what do you expect? I have to defend myself.”

Dr Tamimi also told the interviewer: “At one time Nelson Mandela was called a terrorist. It doesn’t matter what people say today.”

Mr MacShane, a Labour MP and former Minister for Europe, who led a Parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism in 2006, urged university Vice Chancellor Prof David Eastwood to cancel the meeting.

In a letter to Prof Eastwood, he said: “I understand that a notorious Jew-hater and supporter of terrorist attacks on Jewish women and children in Israel is scheduled to give a talk . . . at Birmingham University.”

He accused Dr Tamimi of “glorifying Jihad and the killing of those opposed to his fanatical Islamist world view” and asked: “Should your campus be used as a platform for someone linked to Jew-hate and incitement to terrorist acts?”

But the university has released a statement insisting it will not intervene.

A spokesman said: ‘The University of Birmingham has a code of practice on freedom of speech on campus, and those seeking to invite outside speakers onto campus must fill in a freedom of speech request form at least 15 days before the proposed event.

‘The University has received a freedom of speech request from the Islamic Society for Azzam Tamimi to speak on campus and the event will go ahead as planned.

“Universities are plural societies which are home to differences of opinion, debate and views. The University of Birmingham hosts many visitors and events every year and itself is a community of 150 nations situated in a vibrant multi-cultural city. We respect the right of all individuals to exercise freedom of speech within the law; we are also intolerant of discrimination of any kind.”

A spokesman for University of Birmingham Islamic Society said: “We don’t advocate Hamas or its views. Dr Tamimi represents an important part of the dialogue which has to take place.”

Irak war and the Chilcot enquiry: rewriting history

This article appeared in The Independent

20 January 2010

Objections I never heard in 2003

Plenty of those now eager to cast Blair in a bad light supported war in Iraq at the time

Which of the many senior politicians caught in the long-running debate over the Iraq conflict said that Saddam Hussein "most certainly has chemical and biological weapons and is working towards a nuclear capacity" and that the now famous dossier "contains confirmation of information that we either knew or most certainly should have been willing to assume?"

Not Jack Straw nor Geoff Hoon, whose evidence to Sir John Chilcot is central to the inquiry. Not an Alastair Campbell parrot but the Right Honourable Sir Menzies Campbell MP QC, speaking in the debate in the Commons in September 2002 when the now infamous dossier was published. The point is made not to mock Ming Campbell, whose views changed as events unfolded, but as a reminder that the Chilcot Inquiry is taking an increasingly surreal turn as it discusses not the history of what happened but the contemporary passions of protagonists nearly a decade later.

Not many MPs are given the title honourable these days. Yet as Hoon showed yesterday he accepts his responsibility and does not seek to resile from his judgements. Contrast that to the top mandarins and diplomats who took every honour, school-fee, bonus, pension, and post-retirement job that the British establishment bestows upon its senior state servants. Now they suddenly discover a conscience and that all along they were worried about the Prime Minister's Iraq strategy.

None of them said so at the time. None of them resigned. None of them can produce a memo sent to Downing Street setting out objections. I sat in Jack Straw's office in the Commons as we waited for the vote that would say Yes or No to military action. Neither he nor I knew how the vote would go. Blaming Blair is fashionable. But it is the Commons that made the decision. And two years later the people handsomely re-elected the MPs who voted to topple Saddam.

No Tory will give evidence. Yet at the time the Conservatives were far more gung-ho than Blair. William Hague told the Commons in September 2002 that "400 nuclear sites and installations had been concealed in farmhouses and even schools in Iraq" and argued that "the risk of leaving the regime on its course today far outweigh the risk of taking action quite soon."

Far from Blair hoodwinking parliament, the fact is that as Saddam continued to defy UN resolutions and make impossible a full investigation by Hans Blix and his weapons inspectors there was a cross-party view that Saddam had to be dealt with.

Jack Straw has produced a memo sent a full year before the action took place. It outlines the obvious problems and pitfalls ahead. But Straw threw himself with his customary energy into securing the first UN resolution. I was his deputy at the time. Straw was a collegiate minister holding daily meetings with his team of senior officials, ministers and advisers as well as a weekly lunch for a wider group.

At none of those meetings was the slightest doubt raised that Saddam had to be tackled. No one resigned. Robin Cook and Clare Short did but too late in the day to affect policy and in the latter case only after first endorsing the invasion. Cook had chilled the Commons' blood with his descriptions of Saddam's WMD in 1998 when he launched air patrols and attacks on Iraq. I never heard him doubt then the intelligence which led him to claim Iraq had WMD.

There was also a cross-media consensus. Today the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph give full coverage to every remark at Chilcot which casts a bad light on Blair. But at the time, the Murdoch-Rothermere-Black Brothers press was rooting for war.

And what of Europe? The majority of European governments supported action. Germany was the big exception. In 1990, no one asked Germany to send troops to the first Iraq war. All Chancellor Helmut Kohl did was sign a cheque as the German constitution prohibited the expedition of German soldiers outside the country. His successor, Gerhard Schröder, changed his country's constitution to allow German soldiers to fight and die abroad. But in September 2002, in a hard-fought election against his rightist opponent, Edmund Stoiber, the social democrat Schröder found himself under pressure on Iraq. Stoiber announced he would ban US warplanes flying over Germany in the event of the war. Schröder trumped him by announcing German opposition and neutrality.

But from Portugal to Poland, from Finland to Italy, European governments either sat on their hands or expressly endorsed the Bush line even if public opinion was hostile. In 2010 the EU's political elites agree the war was a mistake. But not at the time.

Nor do people recall that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld thought Tony Blair to be an irritating, whining Brit as he argued that more time should be given to UN resolutions. With China and Russia and then in due course France threatening a veto, the chances of a UN resolution were zero just as they had been zero over Kosovo and will be zero over Iran. The UN can transform itself into the League of Nations with alacrity when it suits Moscow and Beijing and, in 2003, Paris.

I argued as Europe minister at the time that we should focus more effort on shaping a European political response but the focus was always the United States, Washington, and going to see George W Bush and Colin Powell rather than European partners. Britain's half-in, half-out approach to Europe meant that US not Europe dictated policy. As it does today.

But the invasion took place. Its aftermath we know. Osama Bin Laden and other jihadi Islamists had already undertaken terrorist attacks – the Paris Metro in 1995, the Luxor massacre in 1997 – long before anyone had heard of George W Bush or Alastair Campbell.

History will judge whether deposing Saddam Hussein was a good or bad thing. But the Chilcot inquiry should focus on what happened in 2002 and 2003. The efforts in 2010 by those who supported the intervention to re-write history have Stalin as well as Saddam laughing in their graves.

House of Commons' intervention on progressive diplomacy and soft power in Iran

19 January 2010

MacShane Urges UK to Support Green revolution of Iranian People

Former Foreign Minister Denis MacShane MP has told the Commons that Britain should support by means of so-called “soft-power” the movement in Iran for democracy, human rights and an end to rule by Ayatollahs and extremists.

Below is the exchange with Foreign Secretary David Miliband who had earlier told the Commons that he rejected allegations from Teheran that Britain was behind the democracy movement and that demonstrators were “stooges” of Britain and the West.

MacShane said that it was a difficult balancing act for the FCO and the Foreign Secretary but they should err on the side of a clear support for the slow-burn uprising of the Iranian people which he compared to what happened in Poland in the Solidarity era or in South Africa in the 1980s.

“Diplomacy at moments of change can make two fundamental mistakes. The first is to side with reaction in the name of stability – the Metternich-Kissinger error. This happened in the 1970s when the UK went to the last moment to support the Shah of Iran even when it was clear his time had been and gone.

“The second is to err on the side of caution in the name of realism as a people make clear they want change. Tory foreign policy which helped sustain the apartheid state or refused to stop the Milosevic mass killings in the Balkans in the 1990s are examples of this Conservative foreign policy thinking.

“Iran should be a test-bed for soft power geo-politics. Britain and friends of democracy in Iran should find ways of using a wider panoply of resources – internet, naming and shaming, support for scholarships, cultural and political exchanges, more material broadcast, tweeted and distributed in Iran. If ever there was a case for developing soft-power forces for change than Iran is it,” MacShane said.

Below exchange in Commons 19th January 2010 (Hansard)

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I hope that my right hon. Friend does not flinch from those criticisms of Britain’s involvement in Iran. I would be very proud if the United Kingdom was on the side of the great Persian nation, its culture and the green revolution of young people as they march to overthrow those ayatollahs and their tyrants. Is this not a case whereby so-called soft power has to work? Will he talk to other Departments and other Governments to see what we can do to encourage the people of Iran, like the people of Poland in 1980 and the people of South Africa, to overthrow that tyranny and install democracy?

David Miliband: I think that I am right in saying that on 70 occasions over the past few years the Government have raised human rights issues. Given that the Iranian Government say that they want to give us a slap in the mouth for the vehemence with which we have expressed our opinions, no one can say that the Government have been soft or recalcitrant in putting forward those views.

Parliamentary Question to Defence Secretary on India's military strategy

11 January 2010

Defence Secretary urged to Tell India To Drop Military Threats Against Pakistan

Former FCO Minister Denis MacShane MP has called on Britain to urge India to stop preparations for war against Pakistan. The Labour MP asked Britain’s Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, to write to India’s Defence Chief and urged India “to stop beating the drums of war.”

MacShane’s appeal made in the House of Commons ( 11 January) was made following revelations in the Times of India that a secret meeting of India’s army leaders in Simla in December discussed plans for a “double-front” military operation against China and Pakistan.

“It beggars belief that India, a nuclear power and Commonwealth nation, should be discussing military action against Pakistan which is now in the front line of the international alliance against terrorism from which India and Pakistan have suffered grievously.

“It is time to ask India to become part of the solution to the problem that bedevils the entire region instead of making the problem worse by holding secret planning sessions to discuss military invasion. India needs to reduce the tension in Kashmir to allow Pakistan to transfer troops stationed on its eastern flank to deal with the troubled western regions of Pakistan where the Taliban flourish and Osama Bin Laden is hiding,” added MacShane.

The Rotherham MP is a member of Nato’s Parliamentary Assembly and will ask Nato Parliamentarians to join in urging India to develop a new approach to Pakistan in order to strengthen the struggle against terrorism.

The exchange in the Commons is below:

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Has the Secretary of State seen the report in The Times of India about a secret conclave of the Indian general staff in Simla last month in which a planned military attack on Pakistan was discussed openly? Is it really helpful for a Commonwealth partner and nuclear power to talk about attacking Pakistan at this stage? Will he write to ask his Indian opposite number to stop beating the drums of war?

Mr. Ainsworth: I did not see the article. I think that we have made considerable progress in our relationship with Pakistan, which has begun to see the insurgency and terrorism as a big part of the existential threat to Pakistan. We want it to continue in that direction, and so good relations with India have a vital part to play if we are to achieve that.

Press release on the Icelandic debt and the UK

8 January 2010

"Iceland Needs Negotiation, Not Threats" Says Former Europe Minister

Former Europe Minister, Denis MacShane MP, has urged Britain to avoid imposing "Versailles Treaty type reparations" on Iceland and instead negotiate a new deal with Iceland to allow its debt to be paid back to Britain without "humiliating and imposing a disproportionate financial burden on individual Icelanders.
He said Iceland could negotiate a deal with the UK and the Netherlands to use some of its geothermal energy sources as a kind of debt-for-energy exchange. But Britain should seek to avoid punitive measures.
MacShane who visited Iceland as Minister and as an MP has said that Iceland's political, banking and business establishment were following the values and ideology of de-regulated finance capitalism with encouragement and support from the British financial establishment.
"Just because Iceland's politicians were good little Thatcherites and believed in the nostrums of the financial press in London does not justify punishing individual Icelanders for the faults of their leaders and business establishment. Moreover it was British financial advisers under the supervision of the Bank of England and the Financial Services authority which advised British individual and institutional investors to place their savings in Iceland's banks. No local authority treasurer has been punished for risking local taxpayers' money in this way and Britain should not humiliate this north Atlantic democracy by imposing a disproportionate financial burden on individual Icelanders," said MacShane.

The MP said that Iceland had been a vital ally in protecting the Atlantic approaches in World War 2 and in joining Nato to face down the Russian communist threat to Euro-Atlantic freedom. "There may be a fiscal and legal justification in imposing this reparation scheme but Britain should think big and think generously. Obviously the call for a plebiscite on the issue is a mistake as these matters cannot be solved by populist nationalist politics. It was a mistake to place Iceland on a web site alongside terrorist organisations even if the legislation was the best to move quickly to protect British citizens from the wicked behaviour of Iceland's political and business class which had lost all contact with reality as they indulged in their orgy of Thatcher-style greed from the 1980s onwards. But let us move on from the past. Iceland is a great nation which upholds democracy, parliamentary rule of law, a free press and open society. I would welcome Iceland joining the EU and Britain, far from threatening to block this, should help Iceland achieve this goal."

Reflections on the Tories in light of Moliere's play

This article appeared in the Independant

5 January 2010

Go to the theatre to see what a Tory future would be like

'The Misanthrope' mocks the faux morality of the sun king's court

Want to peep into a Tory future-land? Forget the pundits, columnists, Compassites, Progressites, and Fabianites. Instead buy a theatre or film ticket and all will be revealed.
Some of the best political commentary is on offer now in London's theatres. Start with The Misanthrope which is pulling in crowds wanting to see Keira Knightley on stage. Molière's play caused political ructions in the 17th century as it mocked the faux morality and hypocrisy of the court of the sun king, Louis XIV. Martin Crimp has updated it and mocks the courtiers around the sun king in waiting, that scion of old English money and landed gentry, David Cameron.

The hero Alceste asks the question about a party leader: "Why is his touchy-feely party's quite so cosy with a bloated member of the European ultra-right?" and tells the audience, "Immediately some aide from Central Office calls. "It's smear," she goes. "Withdraw your comment or we'll have your balls."

Fictional drama? Ask the editors and reporters who tried to tell the truth about Cameron's link-up with weird nationalist populist politicians in east Europe. One regional editor was called up six times by Tory spin doctors trying to keep out the news of the protest of the Tory MEP Edward McMillan-Scott against what he called the Hague-Cameron alliance with extremists. The scandal has gone largely unreported by the BBC and major papers even if it has led the Tories to vote against climate change policies in the European Parliament or to be in the same voting block as homophobe European right-wingers protesting against gay rights.

At the time the liberal foreign affairs commentator Timothy Garton Ash wrote that Cameron preferred to make an alliance with fascists rather than federalists. Leaving to one side the hypberpolic alliteration, Garton Ash has a point. It is underlined by the National Theatre's production of Our Class which has been playing to packed crowds.

This play tells the story of the massacre of Jews by Poles at Jedwabne in 1941. The leader of the Conservative MEPs in their new grouping is a right-wing Polish politician called Michal Kaminski. He has refused to apologise for the Polish involvement in this massacre until he says "Jews apologise for killing Poles". It is the ugliest statement to come out of an east European politician in recent years and it is to Cameron's eternal shame that he refuses to acknowledge the mistake he made when he broke relations with centre-right Conservatives in Europe like Angela Merkel or Nicholas Sarkozy to enter into an alliance with homophobe nationalists from Warsaw, admirers of the Waffen SS from Vilnius, or climate change-denying politicians from Prague.
Having seen Our Class, go and catch Stephen Poliakoff's film Glorious 39 with its fine British acting from Julie Christie to David Tennant. The film captures the isolationist Toryism with its open contempt for European democratic values that pervaded elements of the Conservative Party in the late 1930s and even up to Churchill and Attlee rallying the nation to defeat fascism in 1940.
Anyone who sits in the Commons and listens to William Hague ranting against Europe or watch his Europhobe frontbench team as well as most Tory backbenchers express contempt for Europe can get a whiff of what Churchill had to fight against in the 1930s.
But come back to The Misanthrope. Who on earth can this be?
"His smile's a metre wide - he's using every means

He can: his grin, his grief, his wife's downmarket-fashion

To fox the voters with his toxic spray-on band of fake compassion:

He loves the poor - we're all in this together -

He'll save the unemployed - He cleverly adopts a flat bland mask of pity

And never mentions once his shit-rich banking cronies in the City."

To be fair, "We're all in this together" is George Osborne's phrase not his leader's but the point is made.

Normally it is only after one or two terms of a Tory government that playwrights and directors unleash their energy to mock the Conservatives. Today we can see the future before it happens for the price of a theatre or movie ticket. There will be no excuse that we weren't warned.

Critical review of Vince Cable's autobiography

This book review was published in the New Statesman

30 December 2009

Free Radical: a Memoir
The Cable guy

If Paddy Ashdown is the best foreign secretary Labour never had, Vince Cable is the best shadow chancellor the Conservatives might have had in place of the current clumsy occupant of that post. Cable is the undoubted darling of today's Commons watchers. They hate Gordon Brown and, other than the oleaginous BBC, they are suspicious of David Cameron. But they all agree that Vince is a decent chap.

Autobiographies usually come at the end of a political career. Yet the Liberal Democrats' steady drift towards Thatcherism-lite is likely to persuade voters that they might as well return to the Tory fold in Twickenham and other, basically Conservative seats that the appeal of Ashdown and Charles Kennedy won for their party. Cable is sensibly cashing in on his cele­brity status, therefore. Once he loses his seat, the Daily Mail will probably dump him and his hastily written book on the economic crisis will be remaindered.

This is both a shame and of huge political significance, as the broad alliance for progressive politics (which Ashdown, Kennedy and Tony Blair uneasily kept alive) is likely to be replaced by a return to the old binary politics. Labour voters should certainly still vote tactically to defeat Cameron's Tories. But, like generals fighting the last war, today's Lib Dem leaders cannot think strategically, and fail to see that Labour's enthusiasm for electoral reform, now made into a formal manifesto pledge by Gordon Brown, could usher in an exciting era of politics.

Cable's memoirs don't touch on this. Instead, they show a decent man from a modest background who took advantage of the post-1945 Labour settlement to advance from a grammar school to Cambridge and then to various public-sector jobs that the ever-enlarging state offered to the baby-boom generation.

He writes with controlled emotion about his beautiful Kenyan Asian wife, Olympia Rebelo, and the racism she encountered from Cable's Tory father, a college lecturer who rose to be president of the reactionary National Association of Schoolmasters. After several false starts in the Labour Party, Cable switched to the Liberal Democrats when he moved to Twickenham, winning his seat in 1997, just as his wife was entering the final stages of a 15-year battle with cancer. This is human life in the raw. In the current atmosphere of Salem-like hatred for MPs, it is useful to be reminded that they are human beings.

But is Cable an effective politician? I have a rare copy of The Red Paper on Scotland, edited by Gordon Brown in 1975. At the time, Cable was a Labour councillor in Glasgow and contributed a piece that ended with the following prediction: "Scotland could, in all probability, expect in the 1980s to be more prosperous as an independent country." This bizarre misjudgement came at the end of his first period as an elected official. He had to wait another 20 years before he became an MP.

By the time he reached parliament, Cable was a staunch deregulator and an uncritical supporter of big oil companies who helped to move the Lib Dems rightwards. He gathered signatures to overthrow Kennedy as leader of the party and, despite his Labour past, his speeches in the Commons gave no hint that he found any fault with the capitalist model as it existed before the crash.

Like George Osborne, Cable has found many lines to criticise the government but it is hard to discern any overarching philosophy, or a desire to do much more than catch tomorrow's headlines. You learn about his ability to put together press releases, his appearances on Have I Got News for You and his writing for the Daily Mail, a paper that champions the antithesis of almost every decent liberal value. But he makes no criticism of the dreadful development project sanctioned by his local Lib Dem council that will destroy a beautiful part of the Thames. And he admits shedding his pro-Europeanism to placate the Tory vote in Twickenham. All of which means that it is hard to work out what Cable stands for, other than Vince. The book feels as if it was written in a hurry while the aura of celebrity remains. That said, it is touching to see him find new love and happiness in his sixties after the loss of a much-loved wife.

As a story of postwar, English, middle-class professional life, this memoir is interesting, but it could have been written by a million other people. Britain is about to enter a moment in political history when great changes need to happen. Free Radical is flat and offers no guidance or vision.

The Lib Dems will be vital to the resistance against the tsunami of reaction that a Cameron government is sure to unleash. But, judging by the evidence of Cable's memoirs, they are already preparing for the political afterlife.