Since the formation of the new coalition government last month, and Vince Cable’s appointment as Business Secretary, I have been watching with interest how the former monolithic structure created by Lord Mandleson – or Lord Meddlesome, depending on your point of view – would survive the harsh new economic world predicted by Messrs Cameron and Osborne. With banking regulation being returned to the Bank of England (and hence the Treasury) and the regional development agencies being scrapped (loud cheers almost everywhere), there seems to be little of importance for Dr Vince to do that could not be done by other government departments. Local councils will seemingly return to providing the lead on local development projects and other job creation initiatives (Eric Pickles at Communities?), possibly aided by Ian Duncan-Smith at the DWP. Companies interested in the field of education, will have to work with and through the now thankfully restored Department of Education. European competition rules ensure that there can be no state subsidies to businesses other than those deemed to be in the national interest: although that doesn’t appear to have stopped the French and Germans in the past. With BP now the centre of a media battle with the Obama White House, it has fallen to our Prime Minister to try and defend what is increasingly becoming the indefensible. No, the only major project in Cable’s in-tray is the on/off privatisation of the Royal Mail; where even Margaret Thatcher decided that it wasn’t worth the aggro it could cause. Any deal to sell off part or all of the government stake in the UK’s postal service, would be tied to the government guaranteeing the £10 billion deficit in the pension fund, as well as keeping Billy Hayes and his CWU comrades at bay – I should declare my interest here, as a former employee who is still some 15 years away from claiming his dues. When Michael Heseltine re-introduced the title President of the Board of Trade during his tenure at the old DTI, it was derided by his opponents as “Having no board, no trade only a bloody president”! So, with all eyes and ears on the much awaited emergency budget, it is tempting to think that the former Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, could itself become a casualty of the spending cuts and other changes planned to put the country back on it’s feet. In which case, news editors and comedy sketch writers will be sharpening their pencils to scribble a suitable obituary for a department, which for the most part, has become synonymous with bungling business, evading enterprise and for being too intent on imposing, rather than reforming regulations.
On a lighter note, I hear that the producers of Strictly Come Dancing are looking for some new ideas for the next series; if all else fails, our Vince could always take to the dance floor with his black fedora hat and two-tone shoes, and give us his rendition of a Whitehall Tango. It could turn out to be almost as amusing as John Sargeant’s paso doble!