Cheers, Vince

His successor will be announced soon, but we really need to say a massive thank you to Vince for the work he has done over the past two years.

He took on a party which was not in the best place. He leaves a party which is rejuvenated, united, determined, confident and has given up equivocation and nuance in favour of a give zero hoots attitude that has paid dividends in terms of the number of members, councillors and MEPs we have.

I have had my disagreements with Vince during his time as leader. I felt that the emphasis on a supporters’ scheme was misplaced when what we actually needed to be doing was to tell our story better. But he did take the time to seek out views in the party and listen to people. Leaders are always going to do stuff that activists don’t like. It goes with the territory. Whoever wins today is going to annoy me at some point – and one of the candidates has been a really good friend for the best part of two decades.

Vince has consistently been the grown up of British politics for way beyond these past two years to be honest. He knows everything and everybody and has been essential in developing the cross party working that’s been going on over Brexit. He has laid the foundations for collaboration that could put paid to this Brexit disaster once and for all. And it is his strong friendship with Chuka Umunna, forged in the years they faced each other at the Dispatch Box when Vince was Business Secretary, that facilitated Chuka joining us.

And he has been really clear about the behaviour we will not tolerate in the Lib Dems. Last Summer he wrote that bigots of any kind are not welcome in our party:

The lazy use of group stereotypes should be unacceptable to us all. But we must not be blind to the fact that these issues affect our party as well.

The Liberal Democrats have always been at the forefront of the fight for equality, and we have a record on these issues of which we’re very proud.

But sadly, the truth is that a very small minority of our own members do hold some views that are fundamentally incompatible with our values.

Our party’s constitution is clear:

We reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.

As a liberal, I respect people’s rights to hold different views to my own, but my message to everyone is that racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, sexism, transphobia and bigotry are not welcome, and not tolerated, in the Liberal Democrats.

We should also say thank you to his wife, Rachel Smith, who has travelled the length and breadth of the country with him. Being a leader’s spouse is not an easy job.

On a lighter note of my favourite Vince moments was when he turned up at Not the Leaders’s Speech in Bournemouth in 2017. In a tradition dating back to the coalition years, certain of the Awkward Squad don’t bother with the Leader’s Speech at Conference. They gather in a hostelry and watch it on Twitter, working out at which point they would have walked out had they been in the hall. To be fair, the potential for walking out has significantly reduced in recent years, but anyway. It turned out that following a motion on pubs, a photo-op had been arranged with Vince for after his speech. In the same pub as NTLS.

When the Awkward Squad found out about this, there was some good-humoured muttering about the leader not respecting their boundaries and how he could alleviate this by buying a round.

He didn’t do that. “Is this the boycott?” he asked with a smile as certain of the Awkward Squad appeared to take photos of the occasion.

It was all very friendly and fun.

One thing we did find out, though. Vince might ski in the alps, have a brain the size of Everest, brighten up the dance floor and understand every aspect of how the economy works but he can’t pull a pint to save his life. His effort was almost equal head and beer. I’m sure that if he asked nicely, it is a skill Jennie Rigg would be delighted to teach him.

I wanted Vince to get the chance to be leader for a long time. I’m glad that he had the chance to do the job and he has my thanks not just for what he’s done but how he’s gone about it. The photo I’ve chosen to illustrate this article is one of my favourites, taken at Aviemore Scottish Conference last year.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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