Vince explains his ‘blue, white and pink’ remark

Vince Cable was on robust form this morning, being interviewed by John Humphrys on Radio 4’s Today programme. He commented on the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s statement that there is “light at the end of the tunnel” regarding the country’s deficit.

Vince acknowledged that the government is roughly in balance on its day-to-day spending. He said, however, that the government would be very foolish to assume that they have turned the corner and that there’s no need to worry about the country’s finances. He added that the government should take advantage of its low lending rate to invest in the economy.

Vince explained his speech in Southport yesterday. Humprhys focussed on this statement from Vince, referring to Brexit voters:

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

Replying to Humphrys, Vince said:

I know it’s uncomfortable but the simple truth of the matter is the older generation – my generation – the majority voted Brexit, whereas for the younger generation – I’m talking under 25, but indeed a wider group, voted to remain…If you’d read the whole of my speech, to the extent to which I touched on the race issue at all, in 40 minutes, my main criticism was of my own party.

Vince added that the main focus of his speech had been on how to improve inter-generational fairness. However, he argued, some leave voters had been motivated by race:

And I think there’s a couple of bits of evidence which support that. Some of the most effective propaganda at the time – you may remember Farage’s advertisements – were queues of dark-faced people, and that was an argument about immigration being prevented.

I spent a lot of the referendum going round mostly prosperous country areas – they weren’t deprived areas of the north – and the overwhelming reason given for voting the way they were, and they were predominantly older groups, were about immigration. And when people thought about immigration they weren’t predominantly thinking about people from eastern Europe.

This morning on Facebook, Vince linked to a BBC report of his Sunday speech and wrote:

Upset a few people but I stand by my words on Brexit. The voting data bears it out.

Click on the box below to go to the audio of the full Today interview with Vince:

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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35 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Mar '18 - 5:19pm

    Vince is probably accurate, but that is not, generally, the view of elderly Brexiteers, and Vince is not presuming that it is, so as it is only a small proportion, why emphasise it ?!

    A shame as he is a good and wise man and makes an analytical and intelligent speech.

  • Ian MacFadyen 12th Mar '18 - 9:48pm

    For an incisive exploration by Stephen Sadler of why inner-city Leeds voted for Brexit, see chapter 3 of “The Leeds Yellow Book 2018 Essays on a Liberal Future for Leeds” from Beecroft Publications, 0113 257 6232, or [email protected].

  • Ian Hurdley 13th Mar '18 - 7:49am

    @Lorenzo At the time of the referendum I lived in Spain (from where I was fortunately able to vote) and I was amazed and appalled by how many of my friends – retired like myself – voted leave; the main reason was to stop (not simply reduce) immigration from outside Europe.

  • The wider reality is that mass immigration has little support. Every survey shows this.
    So the old aren’t actually alone on that score. Also more older people voted for both camps. The other point is that said older people are not really the products of the Empire anymore. The Hippies are in their 70s, punkers are in their 60s and even the pop performers of the 90s are hitting 50 plus. The older people Vince is talking about are not the same older people they used to be. . Tis the nature of things.

  • nvelope2003 13th Mar '18 - 9:34am

    John McHugo: I think you are right but I did find elderly people who were pro remain, including a lady of 90 who said that as we no longer had the Empire we now needed to be part of the European Union. Some older people get really angry about the EU, possibly because they are influenced by the Sun, Mail, Express, Telegraph newspapers which are almost hysterical in their views and sound so convincing to people who have read them for years. They really buy into the idea that we should be a sovereign independent state as we were before World War II as though that was possible. When you point out that unconditional Free Trade had to be abandoned in 1930 when unemployment reached 3 million they do not believe it and nor do they understand that it could only be maintained when we had a huge navy which we can no longer afford.

  • Shelagh Hemelryk 13th Mar '18 - 11:10am

    As an older person of 82, I am horrified that so many people of my age, and younger, voted to leave the EU. For several months before the referendum, I canvassed for remain, with no political group, and so many young people would tell me they were voting to remain, but could not convince their parents to do the same. The reasons people gave for leaving were predominantly vague and about problems that were nothing to do with the EU. Many were reasons like ‘We want to give this government a bloody nose’ DOH. Labour campaigners for remain were few and far between. The most alarming views I heard were at a pro Daniel Hannan meeting, where he spoke to the converted. The views of his supporters racist and frankly nasty. In Lewis very pro remain and was canvassing with Lib Dems. The most important thing to me is that after years of conflict in Europe the EU kept us together, trading and for the benefit of all 28 members. Brexit is crazy and pointless. Mainly it should never have been decided by referendum. Parliament is sovereign, and it is parliamentarians, given an un whipped vote, who should decide, not the fickle and ill informed public. Papers like The Mail are hugely to blame, but the public gets the press it deserves.

  • I know a lot of people want to be part of the EU. Possibly this is because they’re influenced by the Guardian, the Mirror, the Sunday Times, big celebrity endorsements and channel 4 News. Or maybe it’s a kind subconscious yearning for the safety an imagined pre-reformation golden age of a united European Culture before other influences came to prominence. Or, maybe some people simply find the concept of the EU appealing , whilst others simply don’t?

  • Neil Sandison 13th Mar '18 - 11:17am

    I do hope this is not a Gordon Browne moment for Vince .He now needs to comment on the UK celebrating its diversity and extolling the virtues of EU projects that benefit GB residents as a whole.

  • Despite appalling poll ratings Vince Cable seems intent on making things worse by alienating a large section of the party’s support. According to YouGov one third of those who voted Lib Dem in 2015 voted Leave in 2016. Using YouGov and other sources, I’ve estimated that about a third of the party’s vote comes from the over-sixties. Given the data, I don’t think that insulting older Brexiteers is a very good strategy.

  • The core principle of democracy is that the voter franchise allows a legitimate voter to put a ‘x’ in any box presented on the ballot paper, and *for any reason* they see fit, and it’s frankly no-ones business to question their motivation.

    So even if Vince could prove, beyond a shadow of doubt that,
    “Too many were driven by nostalgia for a world where passports were blue, faces were white and the map was coloured imperial pink”

    How exactly does that invalidate the democratic referendum result?

  • Parliament is sovereign, and it is parliamentarians, given an un whipped vote, who should decide, not the fickle and ill informed public

    If only you’d been around in 1992! If Major had given Parliament unwhipped vote on Maastricht then that treaty would never have been ratified, the whole idea of ‘EU citizenship’ would have been abandoned (or at least the UK wouldn’t have been part of it) and all this unpleasantness could have been avoided.

  • I have to support Sheila Gee here: “the very stuff of democracy” is that all votes are equal and the majority carries the day. it is a negation of the democratic principle to argue that a majority decision is somehow invalid because the losers disapprove of the motives they impute to some of the majority.

  • “In a democracy, with free speech, anyone is entitled to call into question why people voted a particular way. It is the very stuff of democracy.”

    If you are speaking *academically*, then yes, and I don’t doubt that books and study papers will be written on the motivations behind this EU referendum well into the next decade. But free speech and academic debate on the motivations of voters does NOT invalidate their vote or the democratic result.

    Let me put the point a different way.
    If those 17.4 million voters had worn T shirts as they entered a polling station, openly declaring ‘I am a Racist’, and voted leave, then the leave vote still carries.

    It simply doesn’t matter what Vince [or anyone] thinks about a voter’s motivation, because even a self-declared racist still holds a legitimate and equal franchise to vote as they wish, and to expect that vote to be counted?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Mar '18 - 12:47am

    John, Ian,

    I defer to your facts but as they are individuals, we as Liberal see that there are many who are not as those folks, in Folkstone etc., in view and approach.

  • This is complicated. What Vince said is, of course, quite true. Leave would have gained a derisory vote if it had been supported only by those who agonised about the governmental structure of the EU, or thought it was crucial to make a grab for better fishing rights, or preferred Trump to Tusk. Leave won on a wave of nostalgia and cultural conservatism. The question is, however – Was Cable right to speak this particular truth in this particular way?

    What Corbyn said about Russina oligarchs funding the Tory party was also the truth. It was not a truth which should have been brought to the fore just right now.

    Vince’s mistake wasn’t as bad as Corbyn’s, but it was in a way quite similar. It was wrong to make such an unbalanced statement.

    If we are to reverse Brexit, we must get more voters on side. We won’t do that by sneering at their worst reasons for having voted Brexit. We will only do it by picking on their strongest reasons, showing that we aren’t deaf to them, and seeking to show that we can respond to them. Easy migration is one thing, the concept that a large net flow in one direction is natural and immutable and automatically praiseworthy is quite another. Rather than making life nasty for incomers, we should be changing the economics to discourage companies from recruiting overseas. That sort of policy would gain wider respect, beyond our depleted 7% core vote.

  • “Who has actually said that people’s supposed motivations invalidated the referendum result?”

    Actually that’s the conclusion to be drawn from Vince’s speech on Sunday.

    “I confess that my own initial reaction to the referendum was to think there was little choice but to pursue Brexit: I thought ‘the public have voted to be poorer. That is their right.’

    “What changed my mind was the evidence that Brexit had overwhelmingly been the choice of the older generation.”

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

    “It was never a good idea to leave the EU. To leave it now borders on extreme recklessness.

    And only our Liberal Democrat team, led by Tom Brake, are making that argument in Parliament.”

    In other words, the wrong people, the old, voted leave for the wrong reasons, nostalgia and bigotry. Therefore, the Lib Dems oppose the majority view expressed in the referendum.

  • “Who has actually said that people’s supposed motivations invalidated the referendum result?”
    Vince Cable did, in his speech.

    Vince — “I confess that my own initial reaction to the referendum was to think there was little choice but to pursue Brexit: I thought ‘the public have voted to be poorer. That is their right.’”
    So, in this first reaction he correctly, accepts the validity of the vote result, as being arithmetically and democratically sound.

    Vince — “What changed my mind was the evidence that Brexit had overwhelmingly been the choice of the older generation.”
    Here, he then changes his mind on the validity of the result, not for any democratic irregularities, but on *his* simple assumption that the sheer weight of older voters, and their motivations, have somehow skewed the result inappropriately?

    In truth, his first reaction was the correct one, because *factually*, a ‘young vote’ and an ‘old vote’ are of equal weight in the count.
    So his change of mind is in error, because he misguidedly allows himself to discount the *fact* that all votes are equal, and has changed his mind purely on an assumption of an ‘older vote’ [and their motivations], weighing heavier in the result.

    Vince’s change of mind on the validity and efficacy of the referendum result is irrational, being based solely on his ‘belief of motivations’, and not on the factual arithmetic result, based on equal votes.

  • Paul, regrettably I’m coming to the view that you’re being deliberately obtuse. Of course, the general election results stands etc. But by the same token so does the referendum result. Parliament voted overwhelmingly to hold a referendum and the government undertook to honour the result. So Brexit must go ahead if a democratic vote is to mean anything.

    On 30th June 2016 on this blog Vince Cable wrote
    ” we have to approach the result with some humility. There is nothing to be gained by denial: crying foul. We wuz robbed, ref. I see petitions demanding a re-run, legal challenges and appeals to parliament to ‘do something’. Dream on. Of course the Leave campaign was mendacious; of course the referendum shouldn’t have happened; of course parliament was negligent in not building in thresholds. But the public was clearly told by both sides that the result would be final. And there was a big turnout. That is it..

    “The other unhelpful response is to try to rerun the debate,: ‘make the case for Europe”, again, better, in the hope that somehow we can prevent the inevitable happening by pretending last Thursday never happened. Sorry. Let’s get real.”

    Presumably, at that time he could be straight about the realities because he was not an MP. Now leader, he argues that we must stop Brexit because the referendum votes of older people shouldn’t count for as much as those of youngsters. That’s a fundamental rejection of democratic principles: all votes are equal. I’m not denying his or the party’s right to hold those views or speak out about them; I’m saying they represent an anti-democratic outlook.

    The party is on 7% in the polls; it’s had dreadful results in two recent general elections, in the European elections and in Scotland and Wales, as well as losing hundreds of council seats The party seems intent on either ignoring or alienating a greater part of the electorate. That’s not a recipe for success, is it?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 14th Mar '18 - 12:43pm

    Leaving aside any arguments about Brexit itself, or about the motives of people who voted Leave, I am very unhappy about Vince’s implication that that the votes of older people are somehow less valid and less worthy of being respected, than the votes of young people. This argument seems both unpleasant and dangerous.

  • @Paul Walter
    “That is your interpretation. He hasn’t actually said the result was “invalidated” and hasn’t, for example, called for the Electoral Commission to investigate it and declare it null and void.”

    If you’re correct, then what *exact* purpose did Vince have in mind, when he put this in his speech?
    “Too many were driven by nostalgia for a world where passports were blue, faces were white and the map was coloured imperial pink”

    In my view, his questioning the motivations of older voters can only have three reasons.
    1. An expression of his right to free speech, and his desire to get catharsis by getting ‘off his chest’, the irritation of losing the referendum.
    2. An obtuse attempt to invalidate the referendum result based on *his* subjective assumption of a voter’s emotional intent.
    3. An angry rant, in order to ‘scold’ older voters for *his* perceived sense of infringement, and misuse of their democratic right.

    The first reason may have given him some catharsis, but left the public impression of a cantankerous bad loser, unable to deal with reality.

    The second reason is foolish because the validity of a democratic result is factually based purely on its arithmetic result, not on some individual’s subjective interpretation of voter ‘motivation’.

    The third reason [An angry rant at old voters], is extra foolish, because it comes straight out of the ‘Gerald Ratner business model’.

    If there is another reason he added this [blue, white, pink] paragraph to his speech, I’d like to hear it, because everything points to it being ill-advised, if his intent was to raise Lib Dems beyond 7%?

  • Katerina Porter 14th Mar '18 - 2:32pm

    Surely what Vince meant and did not put properly is that young voters voted remain and that they wanted their future to be in the EU and that was what was important.

  • @ Paul Walter

    “May I repeat my question to you?:
    What about the general election result of June 2017, Sheila? The parliamentary representatives elected then – are they entitled to make their own decision on what is best for the country based on the facts they see before them?”

    I don’t really understand your point Paul.
    Haven’t our elected representatives already made their [entitled], representative decision on several steps of Brexit? Indeed Gina Miller made it a legal necessity that parliament must approve every step of the Brexit process? Including,

    (a) Agreeing to have a referendum on June 2016.
    (b) A booklet telling voters the result would be enacted.
    (c) Accepting the referendum result to leave, as valid.
    (d) Approval to trigger our two year notice to quit [A50].
    (e) Approving the EU withdrawal Bill in order to ‘rebadge’ EU law into UK law fit for British citizens post Brexit, in April 2019

    Unless I’ve missed something, it seems to me that our elected representatives are doing their job over the Brexit process. It’s sadly, the ‘unrepresentative’ and unelected wing of parliament, where things are constantly getting held up. Remind me again. How many unelected Lib Dem Lords do you have, doing their level best to frustrate democracy, and block the ‘will of the people’?

  • Paul
    There indeed was an election in 2017 and the two largest political parties both stood on platforms to move foreword on leaving the EU. So the newly elected MPS have acted accordingly. Also do you acknowledge that using your argument parliament/MPs would be perfectly with their rights to choose to pursue say hard- Brexit without another advisory referendum to guide them?

  • Arnold Kiel 15th Mar '18 - 7:21am

    What Vince has said is entirely correct. The referendum result is not invalid but wrong. This is not because many leave-voters were old, but because they voted as they did based on lies for unrelated motives and with unrealistic expectations. Consequently, the LibDems do not propose to disregard the referendum, but give everybody the chance to vote again in a much better informed fashion. This is entirely legitimate and defensible. It is opposed only by people who want to ensure that a Brexit without a majority in March 2019 nevertheless happens. This illegitimate motive is hiding behind legalistic democracy-nonsense.

  • Paul
    I get that. The point I’m making is that the parliamentary argument could be used to follow any of the possible routes out of Europe. It could also be used to block leaving the EU. However, if a pro-Brexit government was elected with even a small workable majority then it could ignore any previous parliamentary decision on the subject and visa versa is also true. The other point is that parliament isn’t just MPs scrutinising things. It’s a system that includes the use of the whip to deliver part unity. I think the tendency to push party loyalty above all else is one of the biggest flaws with FPTP.

    I favour a Norway style solution and suspect this government will not survive past the summer because the various factions, especially those on The Right, seem to suffer from a fatal inability to compromise.

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