Vince Cable at Stirling

Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade – and, as he also informed us, Minister of Time (i.e. he decides what time it is in Scotland and whether it should be the same as in England), gave the Andrew Williamson Memorial Lecture at Stirling University yesterday.   He is an extremely good speaker: no jargon or spin, small doses of unpatronising humour, clear thinking.   A politician who taught economics at Glasgow University and had a job in Shell.

Two things struck me about his lecture.  One was that he openly said that he had changed his mind about the necessary speed of dealing with government debt.  It takes inner security to admit to changing your mind.  He could, I suppose, explain it by saying that only in office could he learn the seriousness of the situation.  I wondered whether in fact he had had to toe the line unwillingly for the sake of the coalition – but he conveys a kind of integrity that makes me not want to think that.  I want to think that there is an intellectually honest politician in government.

The second thing was the culture-divide between academia as it was, and still is in part, and the enterprise-driven world of research that universities are being forced to become.  As Vince Cable insisted, Government has no money to dish out.  Other funding bodies (e.g. industry) want results for their cash.  ‘Pure’ research, and study of subjects that are simply interesting for their own sake, are rapidly becoming an unaffordable luxury.

Yet, it’s often some way down the line that people realise the importance or even usefulness of a researcher’s ideas.  And even if they are never really ‘useful’, do we really want a world that has nothing to wonder at, to delight?  I would still argue for a ‘contemplative’ side to our culture, which rests on pure research, as well as poetry and music and art – and religion.

But the most intriguing bit of the evening was looking at Vince Cable and wondering whether with his passion for ballroom he really will go on Strictly Come Dancing …

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2 Responses to Vince Cable at Stirling

  1. Ann Lees says:

    Yes, well, we all knew (if we dared think about it) that the medicine for our economic ills was going to be nasty. Whether the cure is so radical it causes the patient lasting harm or so gentle it just prolongs the agony – it’s another of those ‘judgement things’ – hindsight will tell.
    On public funding, I’ve spent most of the week listening to the facts of public sector funding being explained to sales people who thought it was only a bargaining ploy. We’ll see whether they believed us or not in the next round of tender bids. Most annoying were those who implied it didn’t matter how cash-strapped we were, their product was so essential, we would just have to find the money. One even dared to say ‘how can you put a price on saving a life?’ Oy, it’s the NHS that gets to do the shroud-waving, not salesmen!

    Hm, ballroom, there’s a fund-rasing idea in there somewhere ….

  2. Mother Mary says:

    Having worked in academia, the arts and religious contemplative life I have experienced how research has become increasingly ‘accountable’ and ‘fast track’, and art sponsorship funding linked to advertising (sponsors seeking subject matter that appeals to large numbers of people). What this has done, which I find worrying, is not only to limit the range of subjects explored but, to pressure for both research and art publication before projects have time to mature, with the risk of superficiality if not inaccuracy. Depth in research, art and prayer needs time.
    During recent decades there seems to have been a flowering of variety interest in the religious contemplative life with many Christian meditation groups, publications, films ‘Into Great Silence’, ‘No Greater Love’ and ‘The Island’ and the reality TV program ‘The Monastery’. We know that the church hasn’t spare money either, but it has always been the authority on contemplative life and its people endlessly imaginative in managing to support and encourage creative work on a very small budget (yes Ann, a good ballroom fundraising idea might help!). In the current climate this an important role to play in the preservation of contemplative space – its words, signs and symbols and lived life.

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