ConHome pushes case for Vince Cable as Lib Dem leader. It’s enough to make you wonder why…

You’ve gotta love ConservativeHome. No, really. This morning Tim Montgomerie reports a deliciously mischief-making poll from YouGov, commissioned by the Lord Ashcroft-backed site, comparing the standing of Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats in general.

It won’t surprise anyone to learn that Vince Cable performs better than Nick Clegg in all the measures of leadership qualities asked about. (You can see the results in the graph at the foot of this piece.) This leads Tim to conclude: ‘If the Liberal Democrats are looking for a leader who can increase their electoral competitiveness these are powerful numbers.’

Call me Mr Cynic, but I always take advice from those who work tirelessly in the Tory cause, such as Tim, with a smidgeon of salt. If Tim Montgomerie is urging Lib Dems to look for a leader like Vince the first question we Lib Dems should ask ourselves is ‘Why?’.

It’s not (obviously) because Tim has our best interests at heart. It’s because he thinks the Tories will profit, a view based on a wrong-headed assumption that Vince is basically a bit of a leftie. He’s not. It’s simply that his aim of promoting genuine economic competition doesn’t align with most Tories’ belief that he should give big business exactly what it wants.

But in the Tory world-view the Lib Dems having a ‘leftie leader’ might allow the Tories the chance to grab back the moderate voters they’re otherwise likely to lose as Cameron is dragged further to the right by his party.

What stands out for me from the ConservativeHome poll is this: the close correlation between Nick Clegg’s standing and the Lib Dems as a whole. Of the five qualities asked about, Nick marginally outpolls the party on three (making tough decisions, competent and effective, provides strong leadership), and trails on two (caring about vulnerable, understanding ordinary voters’ concerns). The ‘replace Nick with Vince’ lobby’s argument hinges on the assumption that Brand Vince would boost Brand Lib Dem.

Maybe. But it is also quite likely that Brand Vince wouldn’t survive intact actually having to lead the party. This is where what I’ve termed the ‘Alex Wilcock Realpolitik’ argument comes into play. Here’s how Alex described the leadership choice for the party last month:

I’m prepared to listen to the case for Nick staying or going in a couple of years’ time. But to suggest that a new Leader would stay shiny from now until the General Election and not rapidly become covered in as many layers of excrement as the current Leader has seems to me to be beyond delusional. If the coalition has broken Nick’s Leadership, the time to judge is close to the end of it, when a potential new Leader would be relatively untainted.

As for my own view on Vince Cable as leader, well I refer you to the answer I gave a couple of months ago over at Huffington Post:

Would he be a successful Lib Dem leader? I’m unconvinced. Though he has that rare ability to speak to the full spectrum of Lib Dems – an Orange Book liberal who prefers the label ‘social democrat’ – he has a habit of springing surprise announcements on the party, from his hasty welcome of the Browne Report’s fee-hiking recommendations to his proposal for a ‘mansion tax’ launched without any consultation at the party’s 2009 conference. It’s the kind of behaviour more forgiven if you’re not leader.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Polls.


  • Maybe we should start advising the Tories who their leader should be, perhaps? I personally think they should invite David Davis or Nigel Farage. Yes, that would be a good step for them. Why don’t we do some polling about that?

    I mean honestly, who on earth does Lord Cashcroft think he is? Some power broking Svengali? The Simon Cowell of politics?

    His continued meddling and behind the scenes manipulation should be exposed for all to see. We need to be taking aim at him directly as being the puppet master of the Tories.

  • Bill le Breton 22nd Sep '12 - 11:57am

    However, who would you rather campaign along side; the guy who says (now backed in part by the Governor of the Bank of England) “No extra Cuts”, or the guy who ‘negotiates £10 billion cuts in welfare to the poorest and most vulnerable in return for an increase in tax for owners of ‘Mansions’ bringing in £2 billion?

    A double bluff reading would suggest that Con Home don’t want Cable on those terms. Too dangerous.

  • The Mirror is running with this as well, another organ with our best interests at heart. Also bigged up overon Political Betting, actually run by a libdem but one with issues, its a love/hate thing.
    More generally any drag that Clegg exerts on us is tiny compared to the one Milliband apparently has on labour.
    I dont believe the leader polling tells us anything about the leaders at all.

  • Who cares what Ashcroft wants? Of greater interest to me is how we can be in a coalition with a party entertaining the prospect of a deal with UKIP. The coalition agreement should have blocked that.

  • RICHARD DEAN 22nd Sep '12 - 1:25pm


  • Tony Dawson 22nd Sep '12 - 1:28pm

    “I always take advice from those who work tirelessly in the Tory cause, such as Tim, with a smidgeon of salt.”

    But it’s not advice. it’s straightforward factual analysis. Now, I don’t think that choosing Vince as our next leader would necessarily be the best thing that the Lib Dems would do for ourselves. So a different solution is required to remove us from the present mire. Talking about it now, and on here, would torpedo any such solution. Just as this posting by Stephen Tall torpedos our Party. Doesn’t anyone remember the mantra: “Address your own agenda, not other people’s”?

  • RICHARD DEAN 22nd Sep '12 - 1:29pm

    Perhaps because Nick is a bit creative, and therefore more difficult to predict?

    The five questions presumably represent what conservatives value, or what they think makes for electability, Interesting that creative problem solving, imagination, vision, analytical skills, are all missing from the list.

  • Paul Barker – Don’t you think you are a “Lib Dem with issues”?

    Stephen – You identify Vince as “not a leftie”, with which I generally agree. Perhaps you could enlighten us with which Lib Dem parliamentarians you do identify as lefties? Being as how you must be quite close to these things, and into analysis?

  • Stephen Tall 22nd Sep '12 - 3:29pm

    @ Tim13 – “Perhaps you could enlighten us with which Lib Dem parliamentarians you do identify as lefties?”

    I wasn’t trying to suggest implicitly there are any! There are folk more obviously on the liberal left economically than me – eg, Tim Farron, Steve Webb – but I’d never think of them as anything other than liberals first and foremost.

  • Geoff Crocker 23rd Sep '12 - 9:05am

    Vince plays the populist card to the full and very effectively, which is why he is frequently proposed as leader. But Stephen is right. Vince is a loose cannon. And there are several other reasons for not supporting him as a potential replacement for Nick Clegg. His frequent denigration of other people, whether whole groups such as bankers, or named individuals including Fred Goodwin, (Daily Mail Feb 2009), Lakshmi Mittal and Roman Abramovich (Party Conference Sep 2009), Philip Green (Newsnight September 2009), all of whom had no right of reply, is worrying illiberal, as is his proposal that the earnings of those earning more than the PM should be published (Party Conference 2009). His beloved mansion tax proposal is demonstrably UNfair, as are all property taxes compared to income taxes. His frequent claim that businessmen paying CGT pay lower taxes than cleaning ladies, which actually made it into the budget speech, is simply not true (the Inland Revenue really are not that stupid). Whilst Nick has apologised over the broken student fee pledge, Vince managed to believe in no less than three policies for student funding (no fee increase, graduate tax, and then the current regime) all in the space of one year, which shows staggering intellectual incompetence. His Daily Telegraph gaffe over the Murdoch issue showed him to be not only seriously unwise, but extremely self important in his claim that he could bring the government down single handed. The resultant transfer of that part of his departmental staff was reported to have cost the taxpayer £300,000. And finally his own failure to pay the full tax on his own very considerable earnings from books and speeches is excused as an oversight? It’s not a great record.

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