All this notwithstanding, the BBC and Sky et al. are lionizing Dr. Cable as the harbinger of a new era of ethical Foreign Policy (our last stab at this elusive quarry bombed when everyone realized that Wee Pixie Robin Cook was, well, a Wee Pixie). No matter that he is but a passing pimple on the body of political life, there he is getting all the attention ahead of the King’s arrival.
The Liberal ‘Democrats’ aspire to power in this United Kingdom of ours. There was a time when, in their wildest dreams (and they have an almost unending stream of them), they fondly imagined a day when they would hold the balance of power between Labour and Conservatives and that their Chief Gerontocrat would, as the new Foreign Secretary, shuffle his Zimmer Frame effortlessly up to the Cabinet Table to sit beside either a Labour or a Tory PM (which of the two did not matter terribly, though Labour would always get their first preference vote). As such he would have had to deal with the interests of the United Kingdom in the Middle East. There Saudi Arabia and Jordan are two longstanding partners and friends. Would Sir Ming Campbell or Dr. Cable have refused to meet the King as Foreign Secretary? Of course not.
This is gesture politics at its very worst. He has done it simply to get some cheap headlines for his beleaguered party, a party which, on the back of both a regicide and an abdication in the last two years, reels in the polls at something like wipeout level. It is cheap because there is almost certainly no comeback for it whatsoever. It will, in the scheme of things, drop into the political pond with all the hydrodynamic qualities of a ten pound iron ball.
Of course Saudi Arabia has many deeply unattractive features. Many Saudis espouse a particularly unlovely version of a medievalist religion. They lop people’s heads and hands off as an expression of penal policy and have an attitude towards women of which the kindest description I can imagine is ‘unpleasant’. But they are there, in charge and are our long-standing allies. In a region where the West has few allies it might be thought unwise to lose one that we do have. We have, regrettably, to do business with some rum folk from time to time. Fortunately Dr. Cable’s whoosh of hot air will not register in that relationship for he and his party are simply irrelevant.
He, by the way, has had as many political homes as many of us have had hot dinners. First he was a Liberal then Labour (acting at one time as a special advisor to the late John Smith) then he joined the SDP before finally alighting in the Liberal ‘Democrats’. He has fought elections for Labour, SDP and the Lib ‘Dems’ which suggests a flexibility of mind unusual even for one of his present party. The Doctorate is for economics.
There is an one thing for us to consider here. It is said that the next election has the best chance for a generation of ending with a hung Parliament. This sort of grandstanding nonsense which, together with the vow of Nick Clegg (hitherto thought to be a potential defector to the Tories) to show up David Cameron as ‘illiberal’, will remind us that the very last thing the Tories need to do if there is indeed a hung Parliament is to allow themselves to be joined in Government with this bunch of gadflies.