It has come to a pretty pass when the most free market of free market liberals, the most hawkish, pro-austerity member of an austerity coalition, launches what is billed as a blistering attack on "capitalism". The planned speech is being widely described in the press as "left-wing rhetoric". Predictably, the CBI are reacting with feigned outrage, the Daily Heil insinuating that Cable might in fact be a closet Marxist, and the scum Express is leaping to the defence of free enterprise.
It's crap, of course. What Cable favours is a better regulated capitalism with a humbled financial sector, but he knows he can't even deliver that while he's a helpmeet to George Osborne, the trust fund chancellor who is one of the many millionaires in the Tory front bench, and who is committed to defending a robust, liberated financial sector. The "capitalism" that he impugns is a particularly rapacious form of financialisation, and I don't believe he's winning the policy arguments in the cabinet. Still, he feels he has to name and shame the system in a way that most bourgeois politicians haven't done for decades. Undoubtedly this is intended to staunch the flow of defecting voters, members and councillors, while re-asserting Cable's reputation as a sort of maverick - a reputation that has already been soiled and bloodied due to his involvement in this savage and unpopular austerity agenda. Undoubtedly, it is meant to reassure the dissenters that the 'instincts' of the Liberal leadership are still basically decent and socially conscious, and that they have not been captured by 'sectional' interests, ie those of capital.
Whether anyone buys it or not is almost secondary. That capitalism is a system that people acquiesce in and tolerate for want of an organised alternative is increasingly obvious. That the vast majority of people blame capitalists and bankers for the austerity agenda, more so than they blame anyone else, is also clear in the polls. The interesting thing will be how Labour MPs respond. I am certain that the reflex of most of the leadership candidates will be to defend "capitalism", and to complain about Cable's empty promises and to agree with Lord Turner that it's policy that counts not greed, etc etc. So it is that a right-wing, senior cabinet member in a hard right government perpetrating an unprecedented attack on the welfare state ends up saying what few social democrats have dared say since the defeat of the miners.