I bumped into the Business Minister whilst cycling through South London.
Cycling to my Econowhat? reading group through Stockwell in South London last week, my eyes were drawn to the pavement and a blazing yellow tie.
Pulling carefully into the side of the road, I stopped to see that the man in question was indeed Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat Business Minister. Dr Cable has been refusing to meet Jubilee Debt Campaign to explain in detail why he is requiring people to repay loans for arms sales and other dodgy deals to past dictators. We’ve sent him thousands of postcards and followed him round with skeletons, but his rebuffs had kept coming. I had to take the opportunity for a chat.
Vince Cable was on his own and on the phone. I wandered over as he hung up. “Dr Cable, sorry for interrupting you in the street, but I work for Jubilee Debt Campaign. You’ve refused to meet us for three years. Why are you taking money from Indonesian people for UK loans for arms to the past oppressive dictator General Suharto?”
Dr Cable said he used to be involved in the jubilee campaign, and wanted to assure me that the UK government has been writing-off debts of poor countries as needed to tackle poverty. Confident that I know which debts have and have not been written off, probably better than the Minister, I tried to engage him with the fact that Indonesians, Iraqis and Egyptians are all being made to repay arms loans given to past dictators, and quoted Liberal Democrat party policy to: “conduct our own audit of all existing UK government and commercial debts, ruling invalid any past lending that was recklessly given to dictators known not to be committed to spend the loans on development.”*
“Why won’t you implement your party policy?” I asked.
The Secretary of State for Business looked gratefully towards a car pulling up. “You’ve made your point, but I have to go now” he said as he hurried off into the back seat.
As the car drove off, the bizarreness of meeting a cabinet minister on a road in South London was increased by the fact I’d spent the day speaking to journalists about the latest round of dodgy loans agreed by Vince Cable over the last year.
I don’t think Dr Cable enjoyed the conversation. I’d rather have met in more pleasant surroundings too. So, if Vince or any of your people read this, will you now finally meet Jubilee Debt Campaign to explain why you’ve failed to implement your party’s own policy to audit debts and cancel those which are unjust?
* OK, I might not have got it right word for word.