Exclusive: Vince Cable talks about his new book

Former Lib Dem leader Vince Cable has just published a fascinating new ‘his and her’ memoir, ‘Partnership & Politics in a Divided Decade’, with his wife Rachel. It covers a tumultuous decade in British politics which saw the creation of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition, Brexit and beyond.

I asked Vince about the book and his reflections on the era…

You published a well-received memoir, Free Radical, in 2010, so why write a second volume?

Certainly, two bites of the cherry is rather self-indulgent. I justify it on the basis that the really important things, politically, happened after 2010.

And why write a ‘his and her’ memoir rather than a traditional solo memoir?

I think the partnership element in political lives is very neglected – and the double act with Rachel meant the book isn’t so egocentric. At stressful times (Coalition, defeat, leadership) the emotional and practical support was essential. Also the ‘political wives’ perspective has been rather spoilt by Sasha Squire: funny but lots of malicious gossip.

The Coalition years seem a lifetime ago now, but you think it’s important to revisit them?

A major motive for writing the book was seeing the party become a victim of lazy stereotypes crafted by our opponents and our being mostly airbrushed out of history.

What should the Lib Dems be proudest of achieving during the coalition government?

There is a long list of Lib Dem achievements: the pupil premium; triple lock pensions and stakeholder pensions; gay marriage; lifting low earners out of tax; development of offshore wind; and in my department the creation of the British Business Bank and the Green Investment Bank, as well as relaunching apprenticeships and preserving the Post Office network.

We also stopped a lot of bad things: deeper cuts in benefits, highly illiberal moves on immigration, and some of the wacky ideas now being peddled by Rees-Mogg like ‘no fault dismissal’ and effectively outlawing strikes.

What about the controversial hike in student tuition fees?

We paid the political price of making an undeliverable, very public pledge to students. In government, we introduced what was in effect a ‘graduate tax’ based on ability to pay while putting a lot of resources into promoting social mobility, saving student maintenance grants and preventing the financial collapse of many universities and departments. But the optics were dreadful.

Do you still think entering a coalition government with the Tories in 2010 was the right thing to do, given the high price the Lib Dems paid in the 2015 election?

The political logic of the situation made it the least worst option. I don’t think the 2015 massacre can just be put down to the Coalition. We had angered Labour tactical voters, sure, but we lost on a swing to the Tories based on a ruthlessly effective campaign exploiting fear of an SNP-‘Red Ed’ ‘coalition of chaos’.

It was a pretty bruising election for you too personally, wasn’t it? (He lost his parliamentary seat.)

The Tories targeted Twickenham relentlessly and Cameron came personally, eve of poll, to reinforce the point. My local campaign team did their best but were overwhelmed.

The referendum vote in 2016 was another kick in the teeth for the Lib Dems’ internationalist, pro-European values – could the party have done more to prevent Brexit?

No-one can reasonably blame the Lib Dems for Brexit. We provided the front-line troops for the Remain campaign. But I sometimes wonder if we should have got behind the ’soft Brexit’ campaign in parliament to head off the appalling outcome we now have, but that was clearly not the mood in the party. The big failure was that of Corbyn and his team to campaign in the referendum and to support a ‘Peoples’ Vote’.

Your book makes clear that you have little sympathy for David Cameron who of course resigned as PM after the referendum?

He was in many ways a good PM and a good cabinet chair – but it is difficult to be generous to someone who made one of the biggest unforced errors in modern British history.

The success of the Lib Dems in the local and European elections in 2019 – after you regained your seat and became party leader – must have been gratifying?

Yes, 2019 was an important milestone in the party’s recovery, especially the record local gains as well as the Euros. We saw off Change UK. And had national support of well over 20% for the first time since 2010.

The book’s greatest revelation is that you suffered a stroke in 2018 while party leader – did you ever contemplate standing down as leader?

The mini-stroke led to me underperforming for a couple of months, but I recovered afterwards to return to full fitness. In retrospect I should have been upfront about it but we did not know at the time how serious and long-lasting the damage was. But my mini-stroke was certainly a factor in me stepping down as leader in 2019.

Lastly, did you enjoy co-authoring a book with Rachel? And do you think more couples should write a ‘his and her’ style memoir?

Working together helped us to refresh our memories of what really happened. And I would encourage others to do the same… but it rests on having a very strong relationship and a lot of trust!

 

‘Partnership & Politics in a Divided Decade’, by Vince Cable and Rachel Smith, is published by the Real Press. It’s also available on Kindle.

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11 Comments

  • Tristan Ward 7th Oct '22 - 9:32am

    Sir Vince is talking about his book this evening at the National Liberal Club (1 Whitehall, London) under the aegis of the Liberal Democrat History Group. No charge: just turn up.

  • Michael Cole 7th Oct '22 - 5:39pm

    As Vince implies, we should be proud of our part in the coalition.

    I shall buy the book.

  • George Thomas 7th Oct '22 - 8:03pm

    At a time where we needed to invest in public services cuts were made. Fast forward several years – with a Tory party trying to settle internal arguments with Brexit referendum only to end up eating itself from inside anyway – and we’re now in a much weaker position to respond to latest economic crisis which means we’ll see much greater suffering. On top of that, over 330,000 excess deaths have been linked to the austerity polices Cable supported which is much higher than deaths due to Covid.

    Cable can argue that many good things were done (because they were) and that LD’s stopped Tories acting in a worse manner (because that’s true as well) but it’s simply sad to suggest the biggest errors were the optics of student tuition or that the party was just victim of lazy stereotypes. Does he really believe that?

    Key line from article at top of the page today: “We should point out that if tax cuts are paid for with public expenditure cuts there can be no increase in economic growth.”

  • @ George Thomas, With regret, and as a Lib Dem Councillor with Cabinet responsibility for Social Care at the time witnessing the impact at a local level, I must
    agree with George Thomas’s comment.

    Attached, report on link from the University of Glasgow :
    Over 330,000 excess deaths in Great Britain since 2010 ..ExecReviewhttp://www.execreview.com › 2022/10 › over-330000-…
    3 days ago — Over 330,000 excess deaths in Great Britain linked to austerity, finds study. More than 330,000 excess deaths in Great Britain in recent years .

  • Martin Gray 8th Oct '22 - 7:59am

    @michael Cole…
    The bedroom tax is still brought up, & that will continue ..A spiteful piece of legislation if ever there was one…

  • From 2010 I most remember Vince for his ‘bonfire of workplace regulations’, tribunal fees (ruled illegal by Supreme Court), labour market flexibility (making ‘sacking’ easier), reduce employee compensation for unfair dismissals, etc…Oh, and his ‘nuclear option’ boast..

    Not too much to be proud of in that lot

  • Barry Lofty 8th Oct '22 - 9:43am

    None of us are perfect but oh for a ” Vince Cable” to sort this present government out?? I agree with Michael Cole’s post.

  • Mr John Barrett 8th Oct '22 - 9:09pm

    Any mention in the book of the pleas for help from sub postmasters to Lib-Dem Ministers, including Vince, Jo and Ed, which were apparently ignored, while they were jailed, made bankrupt or worse?

  • John – “Any mention in the book of the pleas for help from sub postmasters to Lib-Dem Ministers, including Vince, Jo and Ed, which were apparently ignored..”

    Vince was quoted n the BBC documentary on the Post Office debacle that he was not aware of what was going on. It is also difficult for ministers to be seen to interfere in court cases.

    What I find shocking is that the Crown Prosecution Service and Judge’s own networks allowed repeated use of Post Office claims on very many of the cases that the balance shortfalls only applied to each individual case. Also that the Post Office were able to mount their own prosecutions given their interest in finding the cases in their favour.

  • John Barrett 10th Oct '22 - 12:08pm

    John – having listened to many victims of this scandal over the years, it appears that our Ministers repeatedly took the easy option of accepting the word of the Post Office rather than listening to the many law-abiding sub postmasters who were hung out to dry. Not doing the work required early on, which would have shown that the Ministers were either being kept in the dark or misled is no excuse. Saying he was not aware of what was going on, or others doing nothing to look into what was a massive problem, is and was an abject failure by those involved.

  • Nigel Quinton 11th Oct '22 - 5:48pm

    I find myself in agreement with David Raw and Gorge Thomas about the major mistake (in hindsight) of the support for austerity, even if Vince and others did a great deal to minimise its impact. I also think the points made about the post office scandal deserve addressing, I was shocked by the apparent failure to take this seriously. I suspect though that it reflects the way Whitehall works as much as individual failures, and can well imagine that the story ministers were getting was far from the whole truth. On austerity it was interesting listening to Vince on a recent webinar (I forget which one, possibly Compass) arguing that Liz Truss was right to challenge ‘Treasury Orthodoxy’ – I suspect that he bears the scars personally of the prevailing view of the time that there was no (Treasury credible) alternative to austerity. What would be refreshing would be for the party to come out clearly and apologise for what was a far more significant error than tuition fees!

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