Vince Cable on Lib Dem prospects: You could come from third to first really quickly

In an interview with the Guardian published tonight, Vince Cable sets out some lofty ambitions for the party:

I ask him what would constitute success for his leadership. “If there is a significant improvement in our vote share, and a sense that we are back in the frame as a serious party being listened to,” he says. He is not looking merely at picking up the odd seat – his age doesn’t permit him that incremental approach – but is more interested in driving up popular support. “You could come from third to first very quickly.” He is encouraged by Emmanuel Macron’s remarkable ascent and the appeal of “radical centrism” in France, and draws parallels with Britain. “The right had become discredited in France, while here the Tory brand is becoming discredited by the day, and there was also a reaction against the Mélenchon left.”

That’s a long way from where we are now, so under what circumstances can we get there? Well, the true cost of Brexit is going to become apparent:

Cable stands by his suggestion that we may never leave the EU. “The Brexit process is going to get very messy. I meet a lot of senior civil servants and they’re trying to be loyal, but their eyebrows rise. They just can’t see how it can be done. The government haven’t taken on board the complexity of unwinding 40 years of regulatory activity.” He says the row over Euratomis a taste of the chaos to come. “The Brexiteers are only just beginning to understand the enormous can of worms they have opened up.”

Does he see any form of Brexit that can work? “I’m increasingly pessimistic,” he says. He thinks there is a 50-50 chance that Britain will get a deal and transition period that safeguard the economy. “That could happen,” he says. “But I think there’s a very high risk of the whole thing falling apart and [the UK] crashing out, with all the costs associated with it. It’s at that point that the second referendum becomes absolutely essential.”

If you like that kind of thing, there’s a delicious put-down of Corbyn:

He doubts whether Corbyn can win an election. “We all underestimated him. He managed very well and was good on television, but he’s a pro-Brexit leader with an anti-Brexit following, and the Venezuelan economics is not, I think, likely to appeal.”

What’s missing, though, is a road map of how we get to the heights he wants us to reach. We can’t just rely on it all falling into our laps once Brexit goes bad. When he publishes his leader’s manifesto, we’ll get more of an idea.

I have to say I’d never thought of Vince as the selfie type…

Cable is, in any case, a young 74. I meet him at Waterloo station – under the clock as tradition dictates – and he easily outpaces me in the dash for the 3.20pm to Twickenham, where he is holding his first constituency surgery since regaining the seat with a thumping 10,000 majority in June. The woman he is sitting next to on the train recognises him, says she is a Lib Dem activist and insists on a selfie. He quickly produces a comb to run through the remnants of his hair before she takes the picture. The dapper, ballroom-dancing Cable – today sporting an elegant suit and striking tie, though not his trademark fedora – may be more image-conscious than his Victorian predecessor.

There is much more as he castigates the Brexiteers for getting us all into a mess that they didn’t even understand. And some surprising commments about Theresa May. Read more here.


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

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  • That’s an interesting interview with some new policy ideas thrown in:

    “His big idea is to introduce “learning accounts” – grants for everyone over the age of 18, regardless of whether or not they go to university, to cash in as part payment on a degree or some other form of training, or to be reserved for study in later life. Cable thinks it would be democratic, economically manageable, and would both protect the income of universities and keep down student debt. “We need something bold like that,” he says.”

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Jul '17 - 1:00am

    I also was struck most by the ‘learning accounts’ idea, which I suppose ties in with Vince’s expressed wish to serve the 60% of young people who don’t go to uni as well as the 40% who do. It seems a fine idea, and my only query would be whether we could ensure that employers would not be able to take advantage of any such funds to reduce their existing contributions to training employees.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Jul '17 - 1:58am

    A very interesting and encouraging piece , from this site and Sr Vince.

    His age and seriousness made me yearn for more vigour, albeit of the moderate and sensible type Norman would have probably given us.

    That which I like as well about the prospect of Norman, common sense, our leader to be has in abundance.

    And we have something else here too, a sense of humour , dry, granite faced , but very much there !

  • This is good stuff from Vince. I’m particularly pleased that he thinks there is no chance of a realignment of centrist politicians in a new party. I’d prefer him to have said it was always a daft idea, but I’ll settle for ‘the moment has passed.’ Maybe he can now get Ashdown to stop talking about it?
    O)n a more positive note, I like the learning accounts idea, and he is very good indeed on Brexit and the opportunity it gives us. I also like the positive, upbeat tone. We need more of the same, to remind people why they liked him so much 10 years ago.

  • Humphrey Hawksley 15th Jul '17 - 9:37am

    Here is the thrust of the interview:-
    “He is not looking merely at picking up the odd seat – his age doesn’t permit him that incremental approach – but is more interested in driving up popular support. “You could come from third to first very quickly.”
    Our task is to come up with ideas on how to achieve this.

  • Interesting to read Blair on Brexit this morning. Loathe him or really loathe him he talks some sense. It makes you wonder how influential he could have been without Iraq. I would like to see the Lib Dem leadership try to influence a core of EU leaders to make an offer, publically, that the UK public may find hard to refuse.

    This would ramp up the pressure on May and (perhaps more importantly in terms of increasing Lib Dem vote share) Corbyn to publically refuse it. Corbyn has been allowed to dodge the Brexit bullet to date but is increasingly being found out for the hard brexiteer that he is.

    I live in hope Brexit will not happen but I think the lessons of Indy Ref, EU Ref and the last election should be that threats of disaster do not work. We need to see some wooing from the EU some shouting from the rooftops of the benefits of membership and a firm offer to address peoples concerns.

    Given these three and the fact the majority of MP’s still back continued membership there is a chance – but only if they have the courage to go against their respective leaders.

  • Sue Sutherland 15th Jul '17 - 2:26pm

    I’m glad that Vince has been looking at new ways to fund learning and also at setting up a community bank which are both ways of helping the disadvantaged. I think it’s important to hold our nerve and tell people that if we go through with Brexit there won’t be enough money to help the NHS and say it over and over again whenever and however we can.
    What we have to avoid is any hint of “I told you so” when or if the economy nosedives. I have also been appalled at the way some Remainers on Facebook sites typify Leavers as ignorant and uncouth. This is part of the reason why they voted Brexit in the first place and they certainly aren’t interested in job losses in the City. They voted as they did from their own valid experience, or a fear of being overwhelmed by immigrants. I think we have to move away from the idea of pandering to racists and start thinking of ways to educate people and overcome concerns about strangers. Starting with sporting stars might be good? I do hope Vince talks to Gary Linnekar soon because he is a strong Remainer.

  • I joined the Liberal Party as a schoolboy nearly forty years ago, because I could see that the party wanted to deliver radical changes to our polity and economy.

    Now, I find myself a member of the ‘status quo party’, opposed by people from right and left who want to deliver radical if probably harmful changes.

    It should be quite clear to everyone except for the rich that the current state of affairs is not sustainable. I am looking to Vince to set out why and how our party can once again stand for positive change.

  • It does not help us to talk of Labour having “Venezuelan economics” and someone should make this very clear to Vince.

    @ Sue Sutherland
    “tell people that if we go through with Brexit there won’t be enough money to help the NHS and say it over and over again whenever and however we can.”

    Hopefully we will not. Of course it would be possible to put more money into the NHS after Brexit if the government had the political will. We should talk about the coming staffing shortage and how we are going to encourage people already living in the UK to train as doctors and nurses. (I saw on TV last week that people from the UK couldn’t get a place in the UK to train as a doctor and so went to eastern EU countries to train after learning their language!) The other major problem that Brexit will bring is a staff shortage in social care and to fix this will cost a lot more money than fixing the problems in the NHS. (However fixing these problems caused by Brexit are unlikely to be a high priority for Vince who thinks Brexit might not happen!)

  • Michael BG – yeah, we should prepare a “plan B manifesto” in case Brexit talk fails, and training doctors and nurses is one of them. But training will take years if not a decade.

    A more immediate option is automation, which is very effective in the aging Japan.

  • Bernard Aris 16th Jul '17 - 3:05pm

    Educational opportunities part 1

    In response (and in support) of the point Vice Cable talked about in the Saturday Interview in the Guardian yesterday,
    Let me give you the Dutch Social Liberal experience with just such a platform item.

    D66 (Dutch LibDems) just a couple of months won the elections: from 12 to 19 seats (in a 15 seats parliament).
    Ever since Populism reared its head with Fortuyn in 2002, we’ve built up a solid profile as “the Education & Opportunity” party.
    #) in the past government term, we were part of a coalition of Progressive (D66, Greens, Labour) and conservative (VVD) parties to introduce Tuition Fees, resulting in MORE people from working class and immigrant background going on to University or Technical High Schools (for engineers; equal academic status).

    But Vince and the LibDems will surely recognise this paragraph from the election platform we won 56% on (Dutch text: ); I paraphrase in translation:
    • “Only by being able to get educated at every stage of one’s life can people keep having oppoortunities in the jobs market; D66 wants to organize, restructure Dutch education to make this possible. We also want unemployed people and people who left secundary school before obtaining the “Universal Jobs Qualification” (the minimum level of Dutch, Arithmatic and other terrains of knwoledge) to be able to resume or continue learning.
    • D66 wants people who have jobs to be able to study part-time (evening school, weekends) from Technical/Vocational Midlevel Training up to academic Masters & Bachelors. SChools & Universities must reorganize to offer these courses that respond to the actual demand from working people and adults (over-18’s) in general. The Students Living Allowance (and right to apply for a Tuition Fee-study) must be extended beyond the age of 30; if possible from September 1st, 2017.
    • to get the catastrophically stagnated, almost non-existent labor market for over-55’s moving again, give them back their job opportunities, D66 wants to give schooling vouchers to any over-55 who is unemployed for more than 6 months (BA: tens of thousands!) to get extra schooling or personal help and support when applying for jobs.
    • And employers must be obliged to insert schooling opportunities articles in the contracts with all their employees.

  • Bernard Aris 16th Jul '17 - 3:08pm

    Educational Opportunities Part 2

    OOPS, typo.
    The Dutch parliament contains 150 seats; we’re not that smalll.. 😉

    This “continuous, lifelong Education opportunities” point once again proves D66 and the LibDems are each others direct equivalent.

    I looked all over the VVD platform (on their website) for similar proposals, but cloud not find any. If any VVD person reading LDV can point out one, I would be much obliged.

  • Ed Shepherd 16th Jul '17 - 3:32pm

    Lifelong education should be available for life free at the point of deliery and funded by a progressive taxation system not by fees or loans. The benefits of such a system far outweigh the costs.

  • David Evans 16th Jul '17 - 4:05pm

    Somehow I think Vince, like Nick , will find it’s an awful lot easier to drop from a clear third to fourth/fifth by breaking a simple, easy to understand, pledge than it is to rise from third (or is it fourth?) to first.

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