Almanac Book Review: Partnership & Politics in a Divided Decade






Sir John Vincent Cable and Rachel Smith, Partnership & Politics in a Divided Decade, published by the authors, London, 2022. Review based on the eBook.



This book is a brilliant quarry for anyone with an interest in modern politics, both for its exposure of the way high level micro-politics works and for the effects this has on the family life of the politician as seen by the partner. With a very sound political economy background both from his academic life and his practical experience in business, the male author would have made the ideal Chancellor of the Exchequer for the United Kingdom, but coalition politics ensured that he was never given that opportunity.


I’ve known Vince Cable since our days as young and impecunious lecturers at Glasgow University. We played football together in the Adam Smith All Stars, a group of enthusiasts who never threatened to rise above local amateur competition. Even then he was deeply involved in local politics as member for Maryhill. He once explained to me why Glasgow, which had the worst performance in indices of urban deprivation, had the largest mileage of urban motorways in the United Kingdom. His constituents did not have cars, but they voted for motorways because that meant their decaying dwellings would be knocked down and they would be rehoused in one of the new towns growing up around the city. Nevertheless, he described the Glasgow motorways as a technocratic blight.


He joined the Social Democratic breakaway from the Labour Party in 1982 and then formed part of the SDP–Liberal Alliance, eventually winning the constituency of Twickenham in 1997. He held the seat until 2015 and regained it in 2017. He was then elected leader of the Liberal Democrats and led the party to its best national election result in 2019.


Vince Cable did not have the killer-instinct that is necessary to get to the very top in politics. Though he could play a political game when necessary, his preference was to find a way of achieving worthwhile and long-lasting results for the country and its people. This long view often got him into trouble with the politicians of the moment, who tended to be governed by the daily media cycle.


One of his many achievements was to prevent the pharmaceutical company AZ being taken over by United States interests. Though he came in for some criticisms from Conservative members of the coalition, his intervention helped strengthen the firm commercially and its share price moved well above what Pfizer had been willing to pay. Crucially, the company would later play a central role, with Oxford academics, in developing an easily usable, safe and effective, vaccine to fight Covid-19, which was delivered at cost.


He met and established good working relationships with Emmanuel Macron long before the latter became President of France. He fought Brexit, pointing out the implications for the United Kingdom, particularly in Scotland. In an acid aside, he noted that meeting Alex Salmond, the former Scottish nationalist first minister who had blue and white saltire crosses everywhere in backgrounds for photographs, was like encountering the president of Uruguay. Before his retirement from national politics, he turned down an offer of a seat in the House of Lords but accepted a Knighthood in David Cameron’s Dissolution Honours in 2015.


I remember once arriving at their home in Twickenham and finding only a visiting student there who directed me to the constituency office where I sat down beside his first wife, Olympia, who was fully occupied putting how-to-vote cards into envelopes. We had been working at this together for nearly half an hour before she realised who I was. It struck me at the time that this was a metaphor for a politician’s partner. Long after Olympia died, Vince Cable re-met a former fellow student, Rachel Smith, by then a New Forest eco-farmer, and they married in 2004. This partnership revitalised both their lives and this book tells a genuinely joint story of love, politics, international relations and more. It is a cracking read for anyone with an interest in any or all these aspects of modern life.


In recent times Sir Vince Cable has been writing and publishing sane and perceptive work on establishing relations with China, rather than joining in the slide into another cold war.




You can read more from Roy Hay HERE.




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  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Interesting and perceptive review as always Roy, thoroughly enjoyed reading about your friend.

  2. Roseville Rocket says

    Good work as always Roy.
    Made even more interesting by the interesting by the intersections of your appearances

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