Opinion: Vince Cable’s leadership comments are unwelcome

A few months ago we received advice from Tim Montgomerie:

… you need to change party leader. Not now. Not, I suggest, until 2014. But you can’t go into the next election with Nick Clegg at the top of your ticket.

OK, on that occasion, the advice was asked for in the form of an invitation to write for this esteemed website.

But over the weekend, there was a twitterfest set off by the very same editor of ConservativeHome:

This led to all sorts of patronising advice for the Lib Dems.

There is one essential snag with all this. It isn’t going to happen. And quite frankly, with Lembit Opik and Tim Montgomerie leading the phalanx of people suggesting it will happen, it is laughable.

OK, a recent LDV poll was headlined here “34% of Lib Dem members say Nick Clegg should stand down before 2015“. However, with all the stuff which has been kicking off since we entered government I am surprised that the 34% figure wasn’t higher. The headline should really have been “59% want Nick Clegg to stay as leader”.

I sense no mood to mess about with the leadership. This idea of Tim Montgomerie’s of Cable becoming leader while Clegg stays as DPM is just ridiculous. Cloud cuckoo land politics.

And I am not impressed by Vince Cable’s latest foray into leadership speculation. Vince Cable is an excellent Business Secretary and would make an excellent Chancellor. But he simply isn’t leadership material. “Twinkle toes” is deluding himself. He doesn’t have the charisma. Having interviewed both Clegg and Cable with other bloggers, Vince Cable is a sort of straight-laced university lecturer type. He doesn’t set the room alight, like Nick Clegg does.

Vince is a flawless economic soothsayer. I am delighted for him that he has been proved right on the Murdoch business. But let’s not get carried away. For those who think Vince has the Midas touch, remember one thing.

Vince was the architect-in-chief of the tuition fees shambles.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist in Newbury and West Berkshire. He is Wednesday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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47 Comments

  • Tracy Connell 23rd Jul '12 - 9:18am

    I was under the impression that Vince would retire in 2015?!

    Anyway, I don’t think Nick needs to go. I think the party just needs a strategy in the run up to 2015 to get the Lib Dem messages out to people and show them the good that Nick has actually done. Must be infuriating for him to work so hard and then have people say you should go.

    I agree Vince is better off as chancellor – though I doubt we will get that post in any Coalition. The other prospective future leaders I don’t think will be ready.

    We need Nick to stay, but we need the electorate to see the good in him and not the vitriolic media hype.

  • William Jones 23rd Jul '12 - 9:24am

    It was news worthy only in that Vince was expected, by many, to retire in 2015 or simply not consider himself suitable for leadership because of his age.

    There is not currently a vacancy but if one occurs I feel it is reassuring that someone of Vince’s calibre is prepared to now stand as a candidate.

  • Roger Roberts 23rd Jul '12 - 9:39am

    The folk who caused most time wasting and trouble used to be the “gossips” ! Now the Twitterers have taken over !

  • Gareth Jones 23rd Jul '12 - 9:42am

    From the Daily Mail article, buried near the bottom: “An ally of Mr Cable’s denied he was plotting a leadership coup. ‘He was asked a question and he answered. He also said Nick Clegg was doing a good job.”

  • Bill le Breton 23rd Jul '12 - 10:03am

    Nick Clegg has to go. Every day, every speech, further undermines our position and delays the recovery of the Party.

    He has lost the confidence of too many of the people we need to support us in the ballot box.

    His weak grasp of economics has allowed him to commit to accelerated deficit reduction – it was he who most vigorously campaigned for faster reduction, citing Greece as the excuse. Our position is and was utterly different.

    He continues to ignore the role of monetary policy and in particular the policy decision takers in the Bank of England (just those who are seen to be incompetent over Barclays and regulation generally). Without changing the target for monetary policy any infrastructure initiative will be offset by the MPC.

    Charisma is a social relationship, not an attribute, nor, in its ability to provoke an emotional response is it an advantage in navigating the right path in a storm.

    His tactical naivety and lack of campaigning experience puts us all at a disadvantage – I can’t think of another political leader anywhere in history who would have backed, when in our position, the reduction in the number of constituencies and therefore increase the number of doors and telephones to be called on in our target holds and gains. He clearly does not know how LDs have been able to win where they have won.

    Our leader needs to be at the heart of governance (heading the Quad-type arrangements for agreeing Coalition policy) and not outside it, so the Lembit solution is as draft as any that he has ever come up with. The change is required in order to change Coalition policy.

    However, Clegg needs to go now, while there is still time to influence for the good the policies of the Coalition and thereby the recovery of the country’s economy.

    Each day, each week, each month, each year that the departure is delayed makes those twin tasks more difficult.

    It requires a sacrifice by Clegg, but the Party deserves this from him. The Party in return should allow our people in the Commons to select a successor with the Party President representing the interests of the Party ‘out of doors’.

    In the circumstances, with patronage neutralized for the day, I should not be surprised if our MPs did not ask Cable to serve.

    They probably would conclude that his record, his technocratic persona, even his age is, at this moment in time, is a distinct political advantage.

    The Party and the country need this to happen.

  • FedUpofCeredigion 23rd Jul '12 - 10:21am

    Bill de Breton@

    Excellent post. You have clearly stated the issues.

    Whether the party listens is another matter.

  • Tim Montgomerie only says things that he thinks will help the Conservative party (which is fair enough since he’s a Conservative).

    Lembit Opik? I’m not sure he’s on the same planet as the rest of us.

    Suffice it to say advice from either of them should be taken with a shovel of salt.

  • Nick Clegg is by far the best leader we have ever had, he got us our highest ever vote in the General Election & our first place in government.
    If there was a vacancy I dont much fancy either Farron or Cable, neither strike me as heavyweights.

  • Paul (Barker) – actually we got 23% in 2010 just 1% more than in 2005. It was also the first election in a couple of decades where we actually lost seats. In 2011 and 2012 we have gone on to our worst election results in over 30 years.

    Our highest General Election vote was nearly 26% in 1983.

  • Saw Vince Cable in Edinburgh last night – he was looking and sounding good.
    I agree with Bill le Breton – Nick has to stand down for the general election – or we are going to be smashed.
    Vince would be a great leader a breath of fresh air and different from the fresh faced neophytes leading the big two.

    As for the article claiming that Vince was architect of the tutition fees shambles – that only highlights how bad a leader Nick Clegg is – weak and indecisive with little or no judgement of publci opinion.

    Vince is not only better for our party but also for the country.

  • David Pollard 23rd Jul '12 - 5:24pm

    All Nick Clegg needs to do is apologise for signing the pledge about tuition fees and promise never to sign any pledges ever again. I think I will start keeping a record of how many times I’ve said and written this.

  • jenny barnes 23rd Jul '12 - 5:31pm

    In the unlikely event that LDs hold the king-maker seats after the next GE, they should insist on the chancellery, not the dignified role of deputy pm. The Chancellor is effectively deputy pm.

  • Richard Dean 23rd Jul '12 - 7:17pm

    It seems to me that Clegg has succeeded in the first requirement stated by Liberal Eye. He did this by signing the Coalition Agreement that took LibDems into government. That strategic direction seems to have united many at the time it was signed, and seems to continue to unite many supporters and most LibDem MPs.

    I do not myself see the relevance of guile and cunning. I prefer transparency, honesty, and appropriate forcefulness.

  • Paul Walter 24th Jul '12 - 7:28am

    @Nick Perry sorry Nick. I don’t and didn’t seek to speak for the party or pretend to have insight into it’s mood, only the local party members here who I have been speaking to. No one has mentioned it and we were very impressed by Nick’s visit to speak here last August.

    As for my post being “unwelcome” – fine. It is labelled “opinion” and it is my opinion. Take it or leave it. But isn’t this party and this site all about debating based on differing viewpoints?

    If you feel strongly about this, why not write a post for LDV giving the opposite view? That would be very welcome.

  • Peter Watson 24th Jul '12 - 8:15am

    @David Pollard
    “All Nick Clegg needs to do is apologise for signing the pledge about tuition fees and promise never to sign any pledges ever again.”
    Oh no. That is the same as a thief apologising for being caught stealing and promising not to get caught again.
    We want Nick Clegg to stop breaking promises, not to stop making them.

  • Once again Bill LeBreton is spot on. No one can deny Nick’s enormous committment nor his abilities (I can’t judge economic competence only observe the outomes). But, as Bill points out, he lacks the political instincts and judgement neede for the job. I might even suggest that the amnesty for undetected asylum seekers after 10 years, worthy though it was, which was in our manifesto (his manifesto), once twigged by Brown & Cameron, stalled the pre-election bandwaggon which his communication skill had created.
    How many activists are inspired to go out & knock on doors by Nick as we were by Paddy & Charles?

  • Peter Watson 24th Jul '12 - 11:37am

    @David Pollard
    “All Nick Clegg needs to do is apologise for signing the pledge about tuition fees and promise never to sign any pledges ever again.”
    Nick Clegg should apologise for breaking a promise, not for making one.

  • @ Peter Watson

    He does need to apologise for making the promise, because frankly it was untenable and everyone here knows it. Even if we had had a full majority it would have been virtually impossible to keep without massive extra public funding for universities paid for from where exactly?

    @ Bill le Breton

    Anyone undertaking Nick Clegg’s role as leader of the Lib Dems in a coalition government was always going to have his name trashed in an outrageously unfair campaign of spite from both the left and the right. It would have happened to Vince Cable, Charlie Kennedy, Ming Campbell, whoever. There are too many vested interests at work for them to allow a coalition to be seen to be successful and for a Liberal Democrat to take any credit for that.

    Besides, who exactly do you see as being able to take over his role right now? Whoever did so would face exactly the same trashing as Nick has.

  • Much as I respect Vince Cable, he is not a potential leader in the sense that he would inspire a revival in the Lib Dems’ polling fortunes. By the next election he will be over 70 and while I personally would respect his age and experience, I think that would be a major weakness in winning over anyone under 40 back to the party. The tabloids would have a field day portraying him as old and doddery.

    To think that in electing a new leader we would suddenly start getting fair hearing from the press and that whoever took on the role wouldn’t face the same character assassination as Nick Clegg has is totally naive.

  • I agree with Bill Le Breton. A key reason for the need to change, however, is the necessary change in economic ideology and policies from the party.

  • “Even if we had had a full majority it would have been virtually impossible to keep without massive extra public funding for universities paid for from where exactly?”

    But funnily enough, what this government has given us is massive extra public funding for universities paid for – in the short and medium term – by additional borrowing, albeit borrowing that’s counted separately from the rest of government borrowing. The idea is that in the long run (a few decades) the net effect will be to save £3bn a year or so, but you know what J. M. Keynes said about the long run!

  • Peter Watson 24th Jul '12 - 5:15pm

    @RC
    “Even if we had had a full majority it would have been virtually impossible to keep without massive extra public funding for universities paid for from where exactly?”
    According to the manifesto for which we campaigned in 2010, “We have a financially responsible plan to phase fees out over six years, so that the change is affordable even in these difficult economic times, and without cutting university income..”

  • RC
    Where do you you think the money is going to come from now? It all comes from taxpayers one way or another. If it is not affordable to fund something from general taxation then nor can it be it affordable to fund it from some subset of taxpayers.

  • “If it is not affordable to fund something from general taxation then nor can it be it affordable to fund it from some subset of taxpayers.”

    I think the idea is that it’s more affordable for today’s taxpayers if the government borrows the money to lend to students, so that future taxpayers will repay it.

    The irony is that this is exactly what Nick Clegg keeps saying is highly immoral and must be avoided.

  • If the le Breton faction think Nick should go, who on earth do they think we have who could be a present replacement?
    Vince, as Paul says, is great with the economy but completely without the broad diplomatic skills set needed for a coalition leader. And he has left it too late.
    Farron, a great rabble rouser but completely without the diplomatic skills set needed for a coalition leader.
    Laws or Huhne would be good but have ruled themselves out through personal baggage.
    Jeremy Browne, but not yet. Maybe 2020.
    Who else could rise to this challenge before 2015? There isn’t anyone.

    I think Nick is good. And although both Labour and Conservative s would be ecstatic if we did depose him, what about the electorate? They might think a party that is always ditching its leaders must be a little confused about its role.
    PS. I was appalled at Bill le Breton’s idea that the Parliamentary Party could once again do the dirty deed of assassination; surely once was enough; and what ever happened to one- member- one vote !!

  • Nick Clegg should have gone the moment he decided the coalition would not vote for a Palastinian state last Septemeber.

  • Richard Dean 24th Jul '12 - 7:50pm

    … meanwhile, as the LibDems collapsed into internal bickering …

    … Cameron reached the bottom of the bottomless pit, and called previous PMs Brown and Major in for a quick chat on how to stop his Chanceller continuing his bid to enter Guiness by creating the mother of all mothers of triple-dip recessions …

    .. and the boss of G4S got a haircut …

  • Elisabeth said:

    “If the le Breton faction think Nick should go, who on earth do they think we have who could be a present replacement?”

    Labour, who are natural losers, followed this train of thought when maintaining Gordon Brown in office. They could see faults in all the alternative candidates – Miliband, Miliband, Harman, Johnson. What they failed to see was that any one of them would have had fewer faults than Brown. As soon as Brown resigned, Labour rose four points in the polls – which would have been enough to turn the election…

    The Tories, who are natural winners, chucked out Michael Howard in 2005. He didn’t lose that badly, and they didn’t know exactly who else might do any better, but they knew that it was vital to find a way to renew their challenge. This guy named Cameron came from the outside field and showed why he was better than the others. It worked, or at least, it worked a whole lot better than not trying to find a better leader.

    I suppose we are natural losers, like Labour. We will cling to nurse for fear of something worse. We will hang on to Clegg, despite the abundant evidence that a change would be good for us.

    To whom? Well, that’s what a proper leadership contest should decide. Cable would get the chance to show whether he had “left it too late”. Farron would get the chance to show some “diplomatic skills”. Perhaps someone quite unexpected might construct a winning formula, much as Cameron did for the Tories in 2005. Whoever won would have had to develop an inspiring and viable way forward.

    The Tories always pull out all the stops to make sure they win. The reason is simple: it’s about money. Winning helps them all get richer, and they really care about that. It also promotes unity.

    Why don’t we pull out all the stops? Are we less well motivated?

  • “I suppose we are natural losers, like Labour. We will cling to nurse for fear of something worse. We will hang on to Clegg, despite the abundant evidence that a change would be good for us.”

    Ah – the Clegg-clingers …

    “To whom? Well, that’s what a proper leadership contest should decide. Cable would get the chance to show whether he had “left it too late”. Farron would get the chance to show some “diplomatic skills”. Perhaps someone quite unexpected might construct a winning formula, much as Cameron did for the Tories in 2005.”

    Perhaps the party might remember a chap named Charles Kennedy, who used to do a rather successful job of leading it. Admittedly he’s only 17 years younger than Vince Cable, but maybe he’s not too old. Anyhow, I daresay he’s about as popular as the other 56 put together.

  • David Allen.
    Yes to a leadership challenge, but at the proper time, not as a panic move . The proper time is already scheduled.
    I understand that under our party rules there has to be a leadership endorsement after a General Election. It will therefore automatically happen that in 2015 after the election, the leader will have to submit to re-election. This would be the proper time for a challenge.
    Usually this is a routine matter and the leader is elected unopposed.
    I became aware of this rule when Charles Kennedy (to whom I was then devoted) was deposed by the Parliamentary Party in the November of a year when he had been re-elected unopposed after the GE earlier in the same year. I felt that if the PP had serious doubts, then someone should have challenged when they had the chance.

    I have to add with regard to other postings ,that I am not a fan of Charles now because he seems to be in a long Heath- like sulk. I have only heard him speak twice in the Commons since his downfall; once on the boundaries of his own constituency, and then recently, to his credit, on Lords reform. It would be a great mistake to ditch Nick and go back to Charles. Imagine what fun the Mail and telegraph would have with it..
    But it is the Silly Season so you never know!!

  • Bill le Breton 25th Jul '12 - 11:22am

    Elizabeth, the country and the Party face existential challenges.

    Without a change in economic policy this country will reach 2015 having experienced five years of stagnation with all the stress and strains that this will be having on the social cohesion of our communities, the destruction of opportunities and the blighting of life chances.

    The country requires coordinated Government expenditure and abrupt monetary stimulus with a relaxation of (and change to) the target given by HMG to the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (specifically NGDP targeting, level targeting of at least 5%).

    The only politician in the country close to articulating that twin approach is Vince Cable.

    To overturn the Establishment forces of the Conservative Party, the Bank of England and the Treasury – what a great Liberal campaign to be part of!

    Nick Clegg is wedded to and associated with accelerated deficit consolidation – the very policy that has undermined confidence and destroyed demand, killing stone dead the recovery underway in 2010.

    By his tactical mistakes (thanks as much to his advisers as to himself) he has also lost the trust of the very people we need if we are to restore our support from electors and activists.

    Electorally he is an irrecoverably damaged person, and we with him because, without both a change in leadership and economic performance, our Party will enter a 2015 election still at around 10% in the polls/15% in the country.

    Elections in 2011 and 2012 have shown that incumbency wedded to a strong council group gives 30 or so MPs the chance to survive personally. But this is little consolation when the rest of the country becomes a wasteland for Liberal Democrats – in a process reminiscent of the ‘Death of Liberal England’ that took place in the 1920s.

    As others have stated here, it is policy that must change. This can only happen and be seen to have happened with a change of leader.

    I share your disgust at the way that both Charles and Ming were brought down by ambitious people whom they had put their trust in. We know who did it and we know how they have fared since.

    But that was not the Party in the Commons as a whole.

    The change that is required requires us practically to delegate and trust others to represent and act for us. In these circumstances I trust our MPs as a group.

  • Our members decide on our leader, but we have to understand that the media have enormously disproportionate power. It is they who undermine Clegg’s position, go undercover to catch Vince out, etc, and it is they who pay for and publish the opinion polls that so many seem to follow in blinkers. A motion of no-confidence in the leader, or a motion to call for Nick to step down could be put to conference with the signatures of ten reps, but has anybody done it. ? No I thought not, so this is just evil gossip.
    We need to listen to the real story not the media version, and get behind Nick, – give him our support to carry on doing a superb job, – we are better off with him. But when it is his time to hand the baton on, why, Elizabeth, no women suggested? Sarah, Jo, Tessa?

  • Richard Dean 25th Jul '12 - 11:24pm

    I saw his interview and was very unimpressed. Maybe he sees the main symptoms, but he doesn’t a vision of how to resolve problems. Even a minor criticism about construction produced excuses rather than insight. And he is so vain!

  • Richard Dean 25th Jul '12 - 11:27pm

    Missing word again! – … he deesn’t SEEM TO HAVE a vision … He struck me as someone who would do well if well led, but not as a leader himself.

  • Richard Dean 26th Jul '12 - 12:22am

    Vim and vgour? Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeez, where’s my knees? If that’s vim and vigour we’re really up the creek!

  • Yellow Bill 28th Jul '12 - 2:28pm

    On tuition fees.

    It was ALWAYS our aspiration to remove charges to students. It was only since we went into coalition that the aspiration was sacrficed on the alter of expediency. There was nothing wrong with making the promise, there was everything wrong with breaking it.

    There are many reasons Clegg should go (along with everyone who went into government – at least at cabinet level). Unfortunately this is more than likely going to happen anyway as the country punishes the Lib Dems for going Tory lite. Those who cannot see this are burying their heads in the sand – I see the party going back to the 1950s and the parliamentary party traveling together in that single taxi. Unfortunately Clegg et al have condemned far too many hard working councils and councillors to the same fate.

    So who to replace him?

    Probably Farron, although I don’t buy this relience on youth and charisma – look where it got the party under Clegg. Economic Liberalism has ruined us – time to return to the centre left. The trouble is, it is going o be a poisoned chalice for whoever takes it on since we are not going to be viable for at least 10 years after the next election

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