It wasn't a good week for Business Secretary Vince Cable. He was denounced in Parliament over his bargain basement sell-off of Royal Mail.
Labour and Tory members of a Commons select committee both layed into him.
Business committee chairman Adrian Bailey condemned Mr Cable’s behaviour as “bizarre” and suggested that he was insulting MPs with his “Alice in Wonderland” performance.
The manner of the Royal Mail sell-off was “quite frankly utterly ridiculous,” declared Mr Bailey.
Tory MP Brian Binley accused Mr Cable and his advisers of living in another world — and costing taxpayers up to £1.2 billion by selling off the shares too cheap.
Glasgow Labour MP William Bain said the public would be “flabbergasted” that ministers seemed happy with the Royal Mail sell-off, despite the huge loss for the taxpayer.
He glared across at Mr Cable and asked: “Is not that something that you would want to apologise for, Secretary of State?”
Mr Cable arrogantly retorted: “Absolutely not.”
Then Mr Bain tried again. “Absolutely no apologies? No regrets? Je ne regrette rien?”
Mr Cable snarled back: “Absolutely no apology.” He declared “hindsight is a wonderful thing.” Yet many had warned prior to the sell-off that the shares were undervalued.
The Lib Dem minister suggested that the threat of industrial action by Royal Mail workers was one reason for setting the launch share price at just 330p.
The risk of failure of the privatisation had been “high,” and it was still a “fragile company with a volatile share price,” he argued.
Labour MP Ann McKechin challenged him about industrial action, asking how many strikes had taken place in the previous two years.
Mr Cable hesitated and then confessed: “I suspect relatively few.”
Asked to explain why large investors were allowed to quickly sell off shares for a quick profit, Mr Cable confessed that only 11 of the original 17 still held a shareholding — amounting to just 60 per cent of their original stake.
MP Katy Clark suggested that big investors had quickly sold the shares “to make a quick buck.”
Mr Cable complacently that “they were indeed making a return for their investors.”
Pat Harrington, general secretary of the Solidarity union, commented:
"These sharks certainly made a return for their investors - at public expense. Cable let them do that by undervaluing the shares and giving priority to hedge funds and Tory donors. His arguments as to why he did this don't stand up to scrutiny. The share issue was massively over-subscribed which is the clearest indication that the price could have been higher. He didn't even have the honesty to apologise. We opposed the sell-off of Royal Mail and right at the start it has been a debacle. Expect worse to come."