Verdict on Vince’s first year

Yesterday was Vince Cable’s first anniversary as leader – the paper anniversary, so that should encourage us all to go deliver lots of leaflets for our Exit from Brexit campaign over the next wee while.

We undoubtedly have the grown-up in the room as far as British politics is concerned. While the Tories’ toxic civil war leads them to force a catastrophic economic meltdown on the country and Labour stands by and lets them do it, Vince has been tirelessly making the case for us to get out of this mess.

Two years on from the Brexit referendum, if it was all going well, if the Government really was enacting this “will of the people”, we wouldn’t have polls showing significant support for a People’s Vote on the final deal.  We even have polling showing that Remain would win the sort of three way referendum Justine Greening was talking about by the same margin as the Scottish independence referendum was won.

Our arguments are prevailing and our poll ratings are edging slowly towards double figures, but we haven’t had the massive breakthrough we’d all like to see.

Why is that and what can Vince do about it in his second year?

Creating waves

Vince’s piece for us yesterday showed that he has been talking a lot in the past year about issues that matter to people. Housing, health, inequality, public services as well as Brexit.

What we need over the next while is a thread that ties all these things together in a way that shows what we stand for – a radical, bold, reforming party that champions freedom from poverty, co-operation, internationalism, human rights and giving people power over their own destinies. We must do this with vigour and passion and show that we will never settle for anything less.

We need to show how our broken democracy has got us into the mess we’re in and lead the way out.

Vince has a reputation for being scholarly and academic with speeches more like lectures than political orations, but he can deliver the goods and create some waves:

I’d like to see him elaborate on the things that get him this sort of attention like this from Spring Conference:

Too many were driven by a nostalgia for a world where passports were blue, faces were white, and the map was coloured imperial pink.

Their votes on one wet day in June, crushing the hopes and aspiration of the young for years to come.

He was absolutely right to say it and we need to hear it more often. We need to hear more of the “young are being shafted on Brexit” and he needs to show that Jeremy Corbyn is just as responsible for what is happening as Theresa May and her Brexiteers.

He needs to take more risks and say more audacious things.

He got a whole load of attention back in February for asking the PM if the NHS would be protected in any trade deal with Donald Trump. He’s not yet exploited the potential of that line and he could do worse than take Willie Rennie’s terrier approach to these things. He just keeps asking the question at every opportunity.

That Lib Dem Process thing

I am slightly worried that Vince is doing that Lib Dem thing of where there’s a problem, trying to find a process to sort it out. It’s absolutely right that we talk to the Canadian Liberals and the En Marche movement in France, because they have got liberals into power and done it well. We can learn from them but we must also be aware of the differences between us. Trudeau’s Liberals had a blip but they were one of the establishment parties. Macron was helped by being in a run-off against a Fascist, something our political system doesn’t have an equivalent for. Vince is very keen on a registered supporters scheme and open primaries. These aren’t bad ideas, but they are a process answer to a question that requires connecting with people at an emotional level.

Everything that Vince says stacks up in terms of evidence and facts. The next year has to be about getting people from nodding in agreement to feeling that they have to sign up with us. They need to believe that we are the ones who can and will bring about the change they are desperate for. We need audacity, we need primary colours in the way we communicate. A registered supporters scheme is a way of dealing with demand for us, it doesn’t create that demand.

My fellow Federal Board member Elaine Bagshaw said on Twitter yesterday that she was annoyed that Vince had gone to the press rather than the Federal Board:

I don’t actually think that there is anything in the article that we didn’t know. What I think Vince’s team hasn’t been particularly good at is joining up the dots with the party’s governance structures, which are there for a reason. Accountability is as important in internal matters as it is for a Government. He’s far from the first leader to make that mistake, they all do it to be honest, but if he wants reforms, he needs to make the case and take us with him and he needs to listen to us when we talk about what we are finding on the doorsteps.

Compelling message

Vince has spent his first year getting the raw ingredients together. He has ideas to help young people with housing and education, he has the wider economic vision for “responsible capitalism” which he needs to translate into a more popular application – more jobs, better public services, workers’ rights – and he has the desire to stop Brexit. His challenge over the next few months will be to form that into a compelling message which will inspire people to join with us to save this country from its current calamitous path.

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

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  • The yougov poll showed Remain at 50% first choices, using a 3-way vote. That’s only slightly down.

    But during the run-up campaign, the two Leave choices (deal or no deal) will both be promoted heavily by sections of the Brexit press, and the fact that there are two of them will skew the final result. This is because each extra Leave choice attracts some voters who would otherwise have voted Remain. If there are 2 horses in a race, the result tends to hover around 50:50 as was the case in the Brexit referendum and the American Presidential election. If there are 3 horses, then the result will tend towards one third each. (Even unappealing horses attract a following – that’s why Trump won).

    So a 3-way vote will is likely to end up with a heavy preponderance towards Leave in some shape or form and secondary choices are unlikely to make up for this. That’s why I proposed either a binary or a 4-way choice in my recent post.

    Regarding Vince Cable, he shares with other prominent Remainers like AC Grayling the relative neglect that the media afford to scholarly, responsible people. They go for the headline grabbing antics of Trump or Johnson, unfortunately. However, Grayling makes up for it to some extent by his manifest anger about Brexit. Likewise Alistair Campbell also sounds off and thereby gains airtime. Vince could cut a more powerful figure by giving vent to his anger more often – a large number of Britons feel very angry about Brexit and someone needs to represent them.

    My proposed slogan for a campaign was Make Britain InVINCEible.

  • John Marriott 21st Jul '18 - 1:42pm

    Sir Vince and I were contemporaries at Cambridge, although I have only met him once when, as a Coalition government minister, he came up to Lincoln to open an ‘Energy from Waste’ facility (aka an incinerator). He was quite surprised that we actually had Lib Dem County Councillors up here, including the Portfolio Holder for Waste at the time, whose name appears on the plaque together with Sir Vince’s to commemorate the event.

    As I write this, I am a RETIRED local politician, whereas he has, in theory, pretensions to be Prime Minister. It must be all that ballroom dancing that keeps him on his toes! Yes, I know that Churchill and Gladstone, to name but two, were well past four score years and ten when they last held the keys to No 10; but Vince is no Gladstone and certainly no Churchill.

    He is a principled and intelligent human being, indeed a very decent person; but does he really have what it takes to climb that greasy pole, especially leading a party that now sadly struggles to get to double figures when national voting intentions are sought?

    Holding what is becoming increasingly like a poisoned chalice just shows the fortitude of the man. At his time of life, is that really what he or we actually want, or, dare I say, what the Lib Dems actually need?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Jul '18 - 2:22pm

    Leaders are individuals who interact, this is the essence too of our Liberal and Democartic approach.

    We see them for who these people are, and rate them accordingly.

    Sir Vince is not strong on the touchy feely or the warm glow, but he twinkles and has twinkle toes!

    Nobody stood but him. I back him until he thinks he has had it, as leader.

    A man of gravitas.

  • To Jenny Barnes-
    When someone makes a new Will, they don’t face a lost of noise about betraying their previous Wills. So it is with the will of the people – the idea that democracy stopped in 2016 and a flawed vote then, contaminated by fraud and funny money, is valid for all time, is nonsense.

  • Sandra Hammett 21st Jul '18 - 3:46pm

    As I used to be a teacher;
    Literacy: A
    Writing: B+
    Speaking: C
    Numeracy: A
    Punctuality: C
    Attention: F

  • Peter Martin 21st Jul '18 - 4:13pm

    @ John King,

    If Remain are on exactly 50% then they’ll only need to pick up one vote from the ranks of those who have voted for one of the two leave options to obtain a majority on the second round.

    You way is unnecessarily complicated. A voter should be to vote remain and also express an opinion on which kind of Leave they prefer. Which they can do simply by numbering their choices 1, 2, and 3

  • Exactly Peter. It’s an obvious way of doing it, which aligns with our policy on introducing STV for general elections. I’m sure someone might make a case for doing something with weighted votes, but IMO that is too complicated and will encourage tactical, rather than honest voting.

    With a 1,2, 3 system, being honest at the ballot box is the best way to get a result that you like, or at least live with. Frankly, it’s what we should have gone for last time, but the Tories were never going to risk exposing the public to a better way of voting, and that could be another reason for them to resist a sensible vote on the deal.

  • John Marriott 21st Jul '18 - 5:02pm

    As usual, my maths have deserted me again. With reference to Gladstone and Churchill I should have said; “THREE score years and ten”. Guess I ‘miss spoke’, which appears to be fashionable at the moment.

    But back to Sir Vince. As nobody appears to want to question his right to lead the party, let’s follow Sandra Hammett’s example and give him a grade or two. I’ve changed the categories slightly.

    For effort B.
    For sincerity A.
    For effectiveness (with the public in general) D.
    For ability/intelligence A.
    For leadership C.

    Comment: ‘Vincent has made progress this year; but he really must try harder if he is to fulfill his potential. However, if he is to compete at the highest level, he is really going to have to up his game.’

  • Peter Martin 21st Jul '18 - 5:05pm

    I think Lib Dems need to find someone more like Justin Trudeau and less like Vince Cable.

    My wife says she’d happily vote for Justin but she’s somewhat cooler towards Vince. I’m not sure if it’s anything to do with their particular policies. I’ll ask her when she get back from doing her shopping!

  • Vince does not (and will probably never) make the rousing and passionate speeches Tim Farron made as leader. However, Tim’s speeches were not shown to the public by the media (particularly during GE 2017). However, Vince has more gravitas and is a good enough TV performer in debates and interviews in my opinion.

  • david grundy 21st Jul '18 - 7:43pm

    Speaking as a convert to the Lib Dems about 4 years ago, I don’t feel as well-versed in all the issues as most of the people commenting… please don’t slam me for saying this: there is a gaping hole in the middle of politics, and a thirst among many people for ‘the middle ground’. I don’t see the Lib Dems unashamedly trying to claim that ground and calling themselves the party of the middle. I now support the Lib dems because I support several of their policies (scrapping OFSTED, 1p on income tax for NHS, a people’s vote on Brexit – all of which are fundamentally sensible policies), but don’t feel we’re going to make significant inroads unless we have the courage to place ourselves in the centre and own that label. People mistrust the extreme Brexiteers and many still have memories of the last time the hard left were in power.

  • Katharine Pindar 21st Jul '18 - 8:26pm

    Words almost fail me, unusually! But with the dire state of the country, the worsening prospect if Brexit happens and the urgent need to put things right even if it doesn’t, I just can’t understand how older Liberal Democrats of distinction can bear to stay out of the battle themselves and recommend next-year retirement to Vince. There’s far too much work for all of us of any age to get on with, and no reason for fit and healthy members in their 70s to contemplate vacuous retirement at such a crucial time. My two fellow-executive members who have reached their eighties would entirely agree! Anyway it would be folly even to think of changing our leader when the leaders of the two main parties have such limited prospects themselves.

    Good article, Caron, and I like your summing-up. I look to Federal Conference to pull together with Vince a compelling profile of our party, its vision and drive, to present to the voters and win many more in the next year of Vince’s leadership.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Jul '18 - 9:20pm

    My Lib Dem membership renewed last week. I have finally embraced the idea of a second referendum and stopping Brexit rather than just staying in the Single Market. I think most can see now that there’s lots of problems with Brexit and even staying in the Single Market gives us less power. Staying in the EU is the patriotic choice.

    I disagree on the embrace of radicalism. The public can be convinced of our arguments but they need to be put across in a way that makes it seem like common sense and in a way that explains why our policies are right without resorting to over simplistic phrases.

  • To Peter Martin

    Remain wouldn’t be on 50 percent or anything like it Peter, that’s my point. The more choices in the direction of Leave, the more pure Remainers will suffer, and the less of them there’ll be.

    I hope we don’t go with this system anyway, I’d hate to be proved right. The French system might have some merit, with a delayed final run-off. It got Macron elected at any rate.

  • David Wilkinson 22nd Jul '18 - 7:53am

    The Federal Board members don’t need to worry about the Canadians as The Sunday Times says Vince missed the Euro vote to plot on a new centralist party.

    PS Why did the Federal Board not ask about the Canadians?

  • Philip Knowles 22nd Jul '18 - 8:18am

    Vince’s problem is the LibDem’s problem – we think too much and the passion that we all feel to change things for the better gets lost.
    The 1p for the NHS is classic. We give all the facts and figures about why it’s the right thing to do. What we should be doing is having a National Day of Action one Saturday in every High Street and Market Place saying ‘Give the NHS the 1p NOW’.
    Will it happen? No. We spend too much time navel gazing as a national party and the hard work we all do at a local level gets lost.
    Our success comes from the work we do at local level. It’s great to read the successes every Friday morning. Those successes are happening despite the national party. I despair of the LibDem website. The campaigns should be at the top not a pic of Vince and Jo. It’s then followed by a donate to use. Why? You haven’t given me a reason to yet. A slider with 1p on income tax for the NHS and all the other radical ideas we have keeps it looking fresh and gives a reason to join.

  • @ Katharine just for the record, Katharine, I’m not recommending that Vince retires, just making an intuitive prediction that he will and wouldn’t blame if he decided that it was time for the next (female) generation to take the reins.

    In passing, from the older generation, an impressive interview with John Major on the Marr show this morning.

  • John Marriott 22nd Jul '18 - 9:54am

    @Katharine Pindar
    Because not all of us have either your stamina, or, dare I say, unbridled enthusiasm. Personally speaking, I have devoted many years to ‘the cause’, or at least how I interpreted it, at the expense of my family and, I reckon, to my teaching career. Quite frankly, I’ve had enough, particularly in Lincolnshire, where nobody at present appears to be capable of learning from previous mistakes.

    While the flame hasn’t completely died – it still flickers in my propensity to grab my iPad to treat LDV readers and contributors to my pearls of wisdom- I quite honestly want to spend what time I have left with my wife, children and grandchildren, with whom, thankfully, I still have a reasonable relationship, despite my neglect.

    Now, that won’t please everyone, I know. But I don’t really fancy the Sisyphus approach. Obviously, Sir Vince and you and your associates are built of sturdier stuff!

  • Sue Sutherland 22nd Jul '18 - 12:46pm

    When I hear Vince speak I find him very reassuring because he’s a voice of reason in an increasingly mad world. However, I think the comment from Elaine Bagshaw sums up a major weakness in our party, one that was a strong contributory factor in our decline during Coalition. For a party that believes in consultation and decision making at the lowest level we are remarkably efficient at keeping power at the highest level in our party. We pride ourselves on one member one vote but in practice we have seen that ignored once we got into power.
    It’s very easy to do. The Federal Board wasn’t told about Vince’s initiatives let alone consulted and this is in a party that believes in open government. The most likely consequence of this failure is that Federal Board members won’t consult with other party groups and so it goes down the chain of power as if it were a greasy pole.
    At the moment members and people who desperately want to Remain are angry and upset that Vince and Tim weren’t present at a Brexit vote. Vince has commented that this reaction is a bit exaggerated, but really when we are at 8% in the polls and Brexit is our number one concern the important opinion is not that of our leader but of the general public. This kind of arrogance from our leaders in Coalition nearly killed off our party. I’m not asking for us to become populists like the Tories and Labour but I am asking for leadership – the kind that respects the “poor bl***y infantry” and seeks to inform and inspire the rest of the population who quite naturally have other concerns than how Parliament works but want a better life.

  • People criticising Vince and Tim for not being present at that vote are being wise with hindsight since the closeness of the vote was entirely unexpected and nobody could have predicted it. Being wise with hindsight is easy. Give Vince a break!

  • Katharine Pindar 23rd Jul '18 - 1:58am

    Il faut cultiver notre jardin, indeed, Nick Collins, and I’m enjoying my roses and my raspberries, and trying to keep the grass green. But if I remember rightly, that quote was a rueful conclusion, that it was the only thing left worth doing! Which is not at all the case for us older Lib Dems. Yes, David, you and John M. were indeed the members of distinction I was referring to – thank you both for gracious replies! – and possibly if I had grandchildren I would think more like you. But then again, I’m not sure of that, because I’d be concerned about the world my grandchildren would be facing. and anxious to improve life for them. It’s a good thing indeed we have still-active older politicians like John Major; I agree with your remark about him on Marr (and also your earlier comment on Anna Soubry’s electrifying speech).

    Pleased to have the Wikipedia link about Catherine Marshall, David, and I have October 13 safely in my diary, to look forward to, thank you. We had an excellent service at St John’s today, the church crowded with the Keswick Convention folk, and an inspiring analysis of St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 2, verse 11 onward, all about integration and unity, from the visiting preacher. Some fine hymns too and Bach from our choir director, so I had your prescription in full! I’m glad you can manage that football on the beach with the new hip doing its job. Goodnight, and God bless!

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Jul '18 - 1:42pm

    david grundy: The Liberal-SDP Alliance had a go at being a centre party, but was affected by First Past The Post voting in the 1983 general election (close) and 1987 (not so close). The Liberal Democrats are a consequence of the merger of the Liberal Party and the SDP.
    Our friends in the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland are separate.

  • David Grundy 23rd Jul '18 - 9:39pm

    Richard Underhill: thanks for explaining the history of that – helpful. Does that mean that in mainstream LibDem thinking, it is simply assumed that LibDems are seen as the party of the centre, or moderation, because of how it came into being, or is ‘centre’ a label most Lib Dems prefer to avoid ? Thanks again

  • Katharine Pindar 24th Jul '18 - 12:37am

    Not wise to abandon our great party, Nick C. – sorry to see you are ex Lib Dem – and evidently taking refuge in great literature as well as gardening, understandably. But there will be time to come back, perhaps when summer’s in the garden again, and be glad of our steady growth. There’s great heat in Britain this summer, in politics as well as weather, but the Liberal Democrats are not the ones dessicated in the heat..

    Thanks for the extra interesting notes about Catherine, David. I shall look forward to that occasion.

  • Katharine Pindar 25th Jul '18 - 7:54pm

    Aye, Nick, we have the same early background and I have drunk ‘Confusion to the Tories!’ with my great Liberal friends for many a year. I can see why you would leave in 2011, of course. I had allowed my optimism to hide the horrors, and I was intent on other aspects of my life. But the 2015 disaster made me an activist again, and more so than ever before, in sheer indignation that the values and principles of my beloved party weren’t any longer appreciated, and at the waste of so many good people, Lib Dem councillors and MPs whom I so much admired. I could follow Tim Farron as an inspiring leader who did lead us towards recovery and is under-appreciated now, IMO.

    Well, what about now? At our age we need that leaflet delivering to keep us fit! I’m badgering my Executive to get one printed, so we can begin to startle prospective candidates out of hiding for next May’s district elections. The dog won’t mind pounding the streets with you if you do the same! Wherever you live, you can’t have a much more derelict constituency than mine has been. There is so much work for us to lend a hand to. (Just one small request, Katharine with an ‘a’ in the middle, please.)

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