Opinion: Meeting Vince Cable (sort of)

I attended the Guildford Lib Dems Summer Supper last night organised by Sue Doughty the former Guildford MP and PPC and her team. The guest of honour was Vince Cable who has been a frequent visitor to Guildford and supporter of Guildford Lib Dems over the years.

Despite living about 20 miles away, in Sandhurst, I have helped out with canvassing etc. numerous times in Guildford. The incumbent Tory MP only has a majority of a few hundred and it is nice to help out in a constituency where we have a very good chance of taking the seat back at the next election, hence my attendance.

As I invariably find at these events, there are lots of very friendly people and I chatted to people I have spoken to previously. I was also pleasantly surprised to find a number of non-party members in attendance who all seemed to be there to see and hear the great man himself. I am sure that certainly helped swell the local party coffers and shows one of the benefits of having such a universally admired and respected politician as Vince in our ranks. The people I spoke to all said words to the effect of “he always speaks sense” or “he is the only one who seems to know what to do about the economy”. Music to my Lib Dem ears! I would say there were at least 50 people there, which I thought was a good turnout.

Anyway, Vince was quite late in the end. He had been over during the day but then had to race back for the Iraq inquiry vote. However he very kindly came back again to give the speech. I have seen him speak before but he was as assured and in command of the issues as ever. He had some warm words to say about Sue first, and praised her determination to get back into parliament which he thinks is a very real prospect.

During his speech, he did focus mainly on the economy and warned that things are going to get worse before they get better. He also outlined a number of spending cuts that the Lib Dems have laid out in recent days such as public sector pensions, ID cards, Trident etc. – all of which I am happy to go out onto the doorstep and sell to people.

During the Q&A session I managed to ask a question. Those who know me won’t be surprised to hear that it was on electoral reform! I explained about the apparent link I had discovered between the expenses scandal and the safety of MPs seats and asked if he agreed that this was a golden opportunity – perhaps once in a political generation – to take this crisis and use it for some good by drawing this parallel, and more broadly linking the fact that many MPs have tenure for life with the rottenness that the expenses scandal has exposed. I also asked if he thought the party was doing enough to get this message out there.

He said that he felt that it is already too late for Labour to have a referendum between now and the next general election and that Gordon Brown’s announcement a couple of weeks ago was a complete damp squib. He also warned us never to underestimate how viscerally opposed the Tories are to any change to the electoral system. He did, however, agree that we should continue strongly to make the case, and to use the examples I had given to help underpin the argument.

During the course of answering some of the other questions he also made the following points:

  • We are in an excellent position to make serious inroads into some of the former Labour fiefdoms in the North as the Labour vote there collapses.
  • Labour are being dishonest when they claim that they will not need to cut spending – and, although the Tories are being more honest, they are still avoiding talking specifics about what needs to be cut, whereas we are doing precisely that.
  • He used anecdotal evidence from his recent stay in hospital (for an appendectomy) to highlight just how bad the management in the NHS can be (eg, he and the surgeons were kept waiting for hours because of a lack of porters, and his stay was extended because there was nobody to bring his medication from the pharmacy: basic management failures), and how it gives the lie to Labour’s hysterics about cuts directly translating to X number of doctors or nurses losing their jobs. Smarter management and reform could yield huge benefits although he did not underestimate the size of the task.

    All in all I took a very positive message from what he had to say – that we have answers to a lot of the questions people are asking, and a strong message to take to them about what we would do.

    I wanted to thank him personally at the end but he had to rush off because Talk Sport wanted to interview him about something. I recall the last time I saw him a few months ago he had to rush off to the BBC Radio 4 radio car. The media obviously still can’t get enough of him!

    * Mark Thompson is a Lib Dem member who blogs at Mark Reckons.

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