Coffee House

Nick Clegg: Vince Cable never intended to offend teachers

6 March 2014

Nick Clegg spent this morning singing the Lib Dem equivalent of Take That’s Back for Good, telling his target voters from the teaching profession that whatever one of his colleagues had said or did, they didn’t mean it. The Deputy Prime Minister was trying to apologise for comments by Vince Cable, who had rather clumsily underlined a valid point he was trying to make about the need for better careers advice in schools by suggesting that teachers ‘know absolutely nothing about the world of work’.

‘I know that Vince did not intend to offend teachers,’ pleaded the Deputy Prime Minister on his LBC radio show. He then described the profession as the ‘lifeblood of society’, which could risk offending those carrying out other worthy public services such as nursing, but never mind. Mr Clegg was anxious not to offend teachers because they and other public sector workers form a key part of the 25 per cent of voters who would either vote Lib Dem tomorrow or would consider doing so that the party is targeting with very specific messages in speeches and policy announcements.


Perhaps he was even more anxious to do so given he and other Lib Dems have never shied from expressing their displeasure when Michael Gove clashes with a teaching union. Dr Cable’s comments managed to paint the Lib Dems as having an even lower esteem than the Education Secretary, who is their favourite pantomime villain (although the Lib Dems insist that they have never run polling on Michael Gove or based their strategy on how disliked or otherwise he is by voters).

But there is something quite funny about the Lib Dems and education that this little incident highlights. They like to take the moral high ground on being nice to teachers (except when they’re being clumsy), and they do enjoy having a bit of a go at Gove. The Education department is one where personal animosity exists between the ministers and the Lib Dems. Initially that involved Nick Clegg having a poor personal relationship with Gove and Liz Truss, whose childcare ratio reforms he stitched up. But after David Laws intervened in the Ofsted row, the tensions are internal as well.

But the tensions do obscure the fact that the Lib Dems do agree with probably about 80-90 per cent of the Conservatives’ education reforms. They found the fuss over the history curriculum a bit amusing, and had struggled to get a hold of the document itself because Gove carried it around with him so often. And they disagree with the Conservatives on unqualified teachers (and point out that so do the public – although this policy is perhaps one of those ones that bears a bit of explaining as ‘unqualified teacher’ can often mean ‘very qualified teacher who doesn’t have a teaching qualification’, which is quite different).

But on academies and free schools and standards, the two parties are united. And it seems they’re now united in accidentally annoying teachers who they really, really want to praise.

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  • Perpetually Astonished

    As a couple of others have observed below, what the appalling Cable said is largely true. There are certainly plenty of exceptions – teachers who can offer great advice and encouragement to pupils about careers – but being a highly sheltered profession teachers don’t know much about the world of work as it is experienced by the majority. Worse, political and social biases mean that they often (though again, not always) have low expectations and ambitions for their pupils.

    But as much as I really dislike Cable for excelling at all of the worst vices of our political class (is there anyone more slimy and hubristic?), should he be criticised for telling the truth? Does it count as helpful political analysis to point out that the truth will only harm his party? Or worse, the truth doesn’t even come into it, what he said is assessed only for its political merit. Depressing.

  • MirthaTidville

    Well said Agent Cable……that should guarantee a whole heap of lost votes for the Limp Dums……So, Nick, still think its a great idea to debate with Nigel ???

  • Tom Tom

    Teachers are core LibDem voters in Clegg’s playbook but i doubt it myself. Cable has reached 70 without ever having held a real job, ie one that did not involve writing academic papers for decision-makers.

    • Makroon

      Very true. After four years in government, the LibDems still haven’t realised that their every word will now be scrutinised. They still think they can get away with ‘loose talk’.

      • Kitty MLB

        Loose talk such as ‘I agree with Nick’- never again!

  • Tony_E

    Cable wasn’t wrong, just a bit ham fisted as usual.

    So many teachers go from School, to university, to Teacher Training, back to school. They are permanently part of the education system. It simply means that they never look outside the public sector into the world of private enterprise as a participant, only as an observer. And that’s not the same thing.

    And that doesn’t make them bad teachers, just that it makes them largely a product of the systems that they were educated in, rather than a product of the world that the majority of their pupils will have to survive in when they leave academia. There is no harm in bringing in local businesses to add to the academic parts of the curriculum with some careers advice, or even some practical industrial training where it could be arranged safely.

  • Mack

    Oh, and in most U.S. states teachers are forbidden by law to form unions. The New York – Chicago – Los Angeles Axis of Weirdness does not obtain beyond their borders.

  • Mack

    As a Yank (sorry) I observe the same thing here. I was born into situational poverty on a farm (serious work there), did some quality time in Viet-Nam and then worked my way through university as an ambulance driver, hospital do-this-do-that, and LVN (not sure there’s a UK equivalent). I have worked on a ranch (one day), poured concrete, worked on a pipe-laying barge in the Gulf, worked in a plastics factory, carried groceries, temped in offices — yeah, I know about work. And at 66 I still teach part-time in a nifty little community college. I’m hoping to get on with Wal-Mart as the fellow who pushes the shopping trolleys in from the parking lot; the pay is better.

    • Makroon

      What do you teach, Mack ?

  • swatnan

    Fact is 650 parliamentarians have never had a proper job.

    • Fergus Pickering

      What is a proper job, O wose one? And how do YOU earn a crust?

      • Swanky

        I like a crust when it’s oven-browned mashed potato.

        • Fergus Pickering

          Sounds horrible, Swanky but chacun….

          • Swanky

            Why does it sound horrible? To the contrary it is delightful!

        • Kitty MLB

          Only with fish pie otherwise its really really horrid.
          If you wish to wake up a dull slab of woebegone mash
          you can always transform it into Irish Champ ( without
          the bacon for smelly turnip nibblers! )

      • Kitty MLB

        Spiked again- O poor blighted little soul of mine- try again!
        O wise one would say:
        Joy to the toiler- him that tills the fields with plenty crowned,
        blessed are the hands of toil.

      • Kitty MLB

        What is a proper job:
        Work thou for pleasure- write, read, sing, paint, restore and carve-
        the thing thou lovest- thou the body starve-
        who works for glory misses the goal:
        who works for money coins his very soul.
        Work for works sake, then , it maybe that these things may be added
        unto thee.
        ( Moderator leave me be )

        • Fergus Pickering

          Now those ARE wise wrds.

  • global city

    But, most teachers DON’T have the slightest clue about ‘the world of work’… and they are downright hostile if not ignorant of the options through enterprise and self employment.

  • Shinsei1967

    The most depressing aspect of current political debate is how the media deliberately misrepresent what politicians say so as to create a story.

    Today it was Cable. A few days ago it was the Tory Helen Grant and her perfectly sensible remarks about getting schoolgirls who hated traditional sports to do stuff like cheerleading which was reported as “Tory thinks girls should only do feminine sports.”

    And almost every week Radio 4’s Today programme has interviews with coalition ministers where any slight difference in remarks is pounced on as a “breach” that will destroy the coalition.

    It’s just lazy and dangerous journalism because it gives the impression that politics is just personal feuds and not actual differences in policy.

    • telemachus

      But my dear chap it is not misrepresentation
      Cable did down the teachers as Gove does everyday
      The coalition have a profound disdain of the teaching profession
      They belittle both their expertise and professionalism
      Tristram Hunt may not have all the answers but he values teachers
      Children will benefit from the improved environment of trust which he will foster

      • gerontius

        Our sad little shill is back..

      • sfin

        My God! you really need to get out more!

        A friend of mine – who I would say, shares your political views, has spent the last thirty years training, newly qualified, graduates to the standard required by allied health professionals in the NHS.

        One of her major recent issues, is that these so called, newly qualified ‘experts’ cannot submit a literate report because they cannot read or write properly!

        It’s a major flaw in your political ideology of ‘workers for the workers’ – The teaching profession, thanks to it’s rabid unions, exists for the welfare of the teaching profession – and not for the academic education of the nation’s children.

        Look at all of the global educational tables over the last 30 years – and see our decline.

        • telemachus

          I know teachers well
          Two members of my family are teachers
          Both are very dedicated successful teachers in successful state schools with Oxbridge entrants and are proud and dedicated
          They are sick and tired of political interference
          But more they perceive that Gove himself and Officials encouraged by Gove operate by denigrating teachers as individuals and teachers as a professional group
          It is only their dedication to their vocation that stops them from withdrawing co-operation which might then harm their charges

          • Fergus Pickering

            You know teachers well. You know two. I know teachers better. I know half a dozen. Some are good and some are dozy, ignorant sods.

            • telemachus

              some are dozy, ignorant sods.


              I guess like posters here


              But to be serious, effort needs to be put in to motivate the
              dozy, ignorant sods not just lambast them

              • Fergus Pickering

                Try sacking them and hiring better, eh?

                • telemachus

                  And waste all that traing money?

                • Fergus Pickering

                  If they are dozy and ignorant then the money has already been wasted. Cut your losses.

              • Nicholas chuzzlewit

                Well you certainly fit the bill in the dozy, ignorant leftist sod department.

          • Colonel Mustard

            Why do you have to patronise and belittle those who disagree with you?

            Why “Son”? Explain that from a “reasonable” and “caring” perspective if you can. Is it a technique taught in some Labour online troll school? Because you all appear to do it. Do you think it somehow assigns more credibility to your comments or is it intended to intimidate dissent?

            • Makroon

              To be fair, Tele probably just copied that from the gin-guzzling expat, of this parish. Tele isn’t known for originality.

        • Tom Tom

          It is the bane of living in Britain having Morlocks aplenty

    • Tom Tom

      Schoolgirls should do compulsory sports…….cheerleading is BS. The
      whole country should have compulsory sports and fitness targets in
      schools so we can have fitter soldiers, police, citizens

      • Shinsei1967

        Cheerleaders are very fit.

        • Makroon

          I read Tom’s first bit as “Schoolgirls should be compulsory sports”.

      • Fergus Pickering

        God, how ghastly that seems. The country in the grip of fitness experts who are, of course, as thick as pigshit.

    • Fergus Pickering

      But it’s new only to those with short memories.You journos have always been much the same, Isabel. The most unpleasant boy I new at schoool became… a leftie journalist. Of course he did..

  • Mikkytoo

    Cable probably didn’t really mean to offend, but he should have done. How can you get career advice from teachers who ran screaming from the prospect of jobs in industry, though many eventually run screaming in the opposite direction.

  • Ron Todd

    Some of the best teachers I had were those that had experience outside the classroom. One of them had worked as a stoker on steamships in the tropics, Another had driven a tank across France.

    • Makroon

      That generation of soldiers-turned-teachers, may have lacked a bit in the expertise department, but more than made up for it in life experience and wisdom. One of our teachers (chemistry) had served in the 8th army, and told us with wonder in his voice that if we had the chance, we should go to the Cairo museum to see the Tutankhamun room, which he described in loving detail (not much chemistry in that lesson). Decades later I did.

    • Fergus Pickering

      He had driven a tank across France. Did he do it for a bet?

  • anyfool

    Teachers like the other public sector workers vote Labour and Lib Dem because they are a guarantee of yearly pay rises, whether deserved or not, the Lib Dems stopped that when they threw in their lot with the Tories, they are finished as a representatives of these type of people, as they have no other large base except for Celts, annihilation is the only result seemingly possible.

    • Mikkytoo

      Will be interesting to see how it goes in current Lib Dem seats, some of their votes switching to Labour, maybe letting in the Tory by the back door.

      • Fergus Pickering

        I like that.

  • HookesLaw

    More and more groups are clearly responding to being told the facts by taking the easy route of taking offence. ‘The Alex Salmond Gambit’.
    Teachers may know about education but there is no evidence that they know anything about the world of work their children will have to move into.

    The incident does expose again the LD hypocricy.

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