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Vince Cable, the Psammead Business Secretary

Vince Psammead
By Mark Wallace
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Readers may recognise the two faces above. One is an ancient, grumpy and rather self-centred creature which claims to know secrets unavailable to ordinary mortals. The other is the Psammead, from Edith Nesbit's Five Children and It.

The cantankerous Psammead promises its audience that their fantastical wishes can come true - and then brings them crashing down to earth within a few hours. His uneasy coalition with the five children who discover it living in a sand pit is an uneasy one - without him, they would never be able to go on their adventures, but in return they have to put up with his constant grumblingand the limits of his powers. 

I suspect you're starting to see that the resemblance with Vince extends beyond the eyebrows.

The Business Secretary is playing out his Psammead role again today. Only a couple of days since George Osborne's positive headlines about the progress the economy is making, and there is more good news from the employment statistics today, but Vince has brought the dark clouds rolling back in.

He has taken up Labour's line of warning about Government complacency, an implicit criticism of George Osborne, and repeated his demands that the Coalition pursue his preferred industrial strategy. Not content with deliberately raining on the Chancellor's parade (which was nowhere near as wildly optimistic as Vince suggests), he would only say that Ed Balls was wrong on "much" of his critique - and that as a reluctant response. Is it really so hard to say that Balls has been wrong on every point - or is Cable trying to keep his options open for a later date?

Cable then went on to back Sarah Teather and criticise Theresa May's immigration policies.

The thing with Psammeads is they are always difficult to please. In the film adaptation of Nesbit's tale, he tells the children:

"I will grant you your wishes. But I have a list of demands. My needs are minimal, but what I need is a state room, with a sunken bath, and those taps that go backwards and forwards. And I need a toothbrush made of gold. Not the bristles, of course, but the bit you hold. Gold bristles would hurt my gums, you see. Did that once. Anyway, I'd like white sand spread on the floor, preferably sand from the Bahamas. And a shower cap."

Perhaps if George Osborne could provide that modest list, our wishes might start to come true.