Vince Cable writes: Lib Dems will be at the forefront of political realignment

It is a year today since I became party leader, and a great deal has happened since.

Thanks to the efforts of so many of our members and campaigners, we had the best set of local election results of the three main parties in England in councils gained and the best overall for us in fifteen years.  We have every reason to hope that next year will be better still – we are already preparing.

The by-election in Lewisham East was our best against Labour for a decade.  Local council contests each week continue to reinforce the positive message our surveys are giving us.

Whatever toxicity attached to the Lib Dem brand after the Coalition has substantially dissipated.  Large numbers will vote for us if they think we have a chance of winning and if there is an effective campaign

As well as winning elections, we are setting out big ideas to change the country.  A few weeks ago, I detailed an ambitious but realistic approach to house building, describing what could be achieved without the impediment of ideological prejudice.

I have also launched a series of initiatives to confront the issues thrown up by the new digital economy and deal with the ‘data giants’; a group is looking at how best to support lifelong learning for people whose future is potentially subject to the upheavals of technological change; another will soon look more broadly at the impact of new technologies like AI and how best to respond to them.

On the core economy, I have set out a revised approach to fiscal and monetary policy which builds on, but does not destroy, existing structures.  We have carried out serious work on land value taxation, which will come before Conference in the Autumn. And I have described how in practice we create a corporate structure which is best described as ‘responsible capitalism’.

On public services, Liberal Democrats continue to lead the argument about the mechanics for funding health and social care with the advice of leading figures in health policy. The Federal Policy Committee has recently set up a new health working group to take forward their work, and to continue our leadership role in mental health policy pioneered by Norman Lamb. Layla Moran, our education spokesperson, has published proposals to address the concerns of parents, teachers and schools, which we endorsed at conference.

The politics of Brexit is moving slowly but substantially in our direction.  Where our calls for a final say on the deal for the public were once derided, more and more people are now joining with us in that campaign.  A highlight of my year was addressing the 100,000 people amassed in Parliament Square for the People’s Vote march.  We remain the leading political force arguing that whatever the parliamentary wranglings over detail, the best course for Britain is to stop Brexit altogether.  Giving the people a choice at the end of this dismal negotiating process is the best way to obtain an exit from Brexit

Politics itself is evolving quickly, with movements becoming as important as parties. I see that as an opportunity not a threat. An opportunity for us to grow, and to become the vehicle for millions of voices across the country. I have taken advice from the experts who worked with Justin Trudeau in Canada and Emmanuel Macron in France to see how we can replicate their success

This summer I will be carefully considering that advice and I know that the Federal People Development Committee is already looking at a range of options for party reforms aimed at broadening our tent and building a movement for change. You will be hearing more on these plans in the coming months.

The first year of my leadership has taken place against the backdrop of extreme political volatility.  The government is unstable; the principal opposition is not speaking even for its own supporters.  A political realignment remains a real prospect during the coming, second year of my leadership – and I’m determined Liberal Democrats should be at the forefront of it

* Sir Vince Cable is MP for Twickenham and was leader of the Liberal Democrats from 2017 until 2019.

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  • Dear Vince,

    you write: “A political realignment remains a real prospect during the coming, second year of my leadership – and I’m determined Liberal Democrats should be at the forefront of it”.

    It’s a little bit galling to read an update like this with no mention of where you were for the vote you missed on the ERG amendments. This would be the case anyway, but there are 2 additional features:
    a/ you told radio4’s today programme that you were at a meeting on “relevant subjects”;
    b/ the Times reports the meeting was with members of a different political party.
    Surely we could have some honesty and clarification here. You are calling for us to be at the forefront of political realignments while missing votes in the Commons to meet with other parties.

    I would also like to take this moment to remind you that all our members of parliament were elected on a pledge that we would form no coalitions in the parliament following the 2017 general election; I would hope that we all remember this before thinking about coalitions or governments of national unity.

  • Richard Underhill 20th Jul '18 - 5:46pm

    The Times has reported that Donald Trump has withdrawn the USA from the TPP, consistent with his dislike of everything his predecessor achieved, thereby leaving Japan in the leadership role in the TPP. (China is not a member).
    Japan has done a deal with the EU, which will gradually reduce the EU’s tariff on cars, over a period.
    There is also a mention of green tea.
    Competition from Japan has greatly improved the reliability of cars available for sale in the EU, including the UK.
    I did not notice any reporting of non-tariff barriers.
    If the UK were to leave the EU we might find ourselves outside this agreement for most of the stages of its implementation.
    The “voluntary” agreement under which Japan limited the number of cars imported into the EU each year was made under pressure from the EU.
    The real cost of car ownership is not reflected in the price of AA/RAC/etcetera membership. Try adding a hotel bill for 2 people and some taxi fares after a breakdown on the M6. The car was a BMW MINI made in England.
    Another failure preferably avoided on the way to work was in a VW made in Germany.
    When the RAC man arrived he offered towing to a garage or trying to fix the problem by the roadside, which he tried and failed to do.
    For the first customer to pay more is not a simple solution. A BMW 7-series is more likely to break down than a BMW 5-Series, because there are more things to go wrong.

  • It seems Vince is not living in the same world as me; we are still under 10% in most opinion polls. This does not mean as Vince thinks, “Whatever toxicity attached to the Lib Dem brand after the Coalition has substantially dissipated.” After the 1987 general election our opinion poll rating declined to 5% and held around 15% from 1991 onwards. We will only have recovered our core vote once we are back at 15% in the opinion polls again. It is disappointing that Labour has benefited from the drop in popularity of the Conservatives since the Chequers deal but we haven’t.

    It is not clear from this article if Vince and the party is doing enough for those who voted to Leave the EU because they feel left behind. And of course there is no mention of reforming the EU to reduce the forces driving economic migration across the EU.

  • Be bolder, please Vince!

  • Michael Cole 20th Jul '18 - 7:28pm

    Wiliam and Dave Page,

    I think you are reading too much into into this.

    Vince has ruled out coalitions; he can do little else, following our experience of a few years ago.

    Perhaps you believe that we should retain our ‘purity’ and only work with LDs.

  • nvelope2003 20th Jul '18 - 8:43pm

    Michael BG: The Liberal Democrats offer worthy policies but they are too dull for many voters who are looking for the modern equivalent of storming the Bastille. Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn provide this depending on your political standpoint. The Bastille had just a few elderly aristocrats living in comfort and the Winter Palace in Petrograd was “stormed” by about nine people not the thousands shown in that film but myths have resonance.

  • Tristan Ward 20th Jul '18 - 8:50pm

    Politics is changing from a contest between social democrats and Conservative/neoliberals. To a contest between fact/research driven internationalists and liberals on one hand and emotion driven nationalist/illiberal protectionists

    It ought to be easy to see where the Lib Dems stand in this continuum, but there are plenty of people in the Tory and Labour parties who ought to be able to sign up to it. (David’s Cameron and Milliband for example). Brexit ought to drive this: if it does not we will be trapped in the dreadful contest between Tory nationalist neoliberalism and Corbyn’s neosocialism. I cannot think of anything worse for the country.

  • “we had the best [local election results] overall for us in fifteen years.”

    Well not if you scratch the surface. Net losses in the north of England, net losses in ‘remain city’ London outside of Richmond and Kingston, vote share falling to the 2011/12 levels.

    Dave highlights another interview by Vince, he is trying to move the party to be part of a moderate, centrist, but not really Liberal, party (see also the complete absence of civil liberty type issues). Where will that leave Liberals?

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Jul '18 - 11:55pm

    I can’t see the joined-up thinking in this article, or how its content relates much to the headline. Still, with Parliament in deadlock and M Barnier having no key to unlock, I think ‘Steady as she goes’ is all right for our party this summer, if we show calm unity against Brexit and determined campaigning for another referendum. Hopefully then the September Conference can shape our public profile, developing a coherent and persuasive platform which melds progressive policy development with the Leader’s ideas and initiatives, and shows us ready for the severe challenges ahead.

  • Sandra Hammett 21st Jul '18 - 2:36am

    What a wasted opportunity which could have been used to explain to errors, provide a clear framework for the future, pop the Lib Dem bubble and show some real leadership.
    “The first year of my leadership has taken place against the backdrop of extreme political volatility. The government is unstable; the principal opposition is not speaking even for its own supporters.” And it would be naive to believe we are exempt from it, who would have thought for example that our two most prominent MPs would miss ANY vote on Brexit? Or that WE have spent two years saying we oppose Brexit but have nothing to show for it, despite an unstable government.
    Unless something spectacular happens like the government actually agreeing to a vote on the deal or a general election, I can’t help but feel that we will continue to squander our opportunities and advantages.

  • David Evans 21st Jul '18 - 6:51am

    Vince – We did not have “the best [local election results] overall for us in fifteen years.” We recovered slightly from a period when we had the worst series of results in the previous thirty – i.e. coalition. In those five years we lost over 1,900 councillors. The previous time the 2018 seats were fought we lost 310. In 2018 we gained only 76 of them back.

    We have to stop pretending these are great results and face up to the full facts.

  • William Fowler 21st Jul '18 - 7:43am

    There have been no development of policies that would make staying in the EU acceptable to a large chunk of leavers (10-20 are hardcore who won’t be moved but the rest are open to persuasion). Reliance on fear and panic assumes people believe politicians!

    No policies, such as phasing out council tax, that would grab voters’ attention, just a promised possibility of Land Value Tax that will be so complex to implement that the bureaucracy will eat deeply into the revenue.

    No recognition that the job of the next govn, post Brexit, will be to work out how to share out a much smaller tax revenue cake more fairly.

    No radical reform of tax/NI/benefits, now necessary to increase tax revenue post Brexit that would lower taxes for those on 20k or under and increase them for others,

    Basically just croaking along in the hope that something turns up.

  • Peter Watson 21st Jul '18 - 10:13am

    @OnceALibDem ‘we had the best [local election results] overall for us in fifteen years.’
    “Well not if you scratch the surface.”
    Even on the surface, the projected national equivalent vote share dropped from that achieved under Tim Farron the year before.
    It often looks as if the plan is to grow the Lib Dem recovery outwards from some Richmond-Oxfordshire axis, and perhaps in the last couple of years the party has taken its eye off the ball in other parts of the country.

  • Paul Reynolds 21st Jul '18 - 12:13pm

    Peter, William, David and Sandra. You are certainly right and your words of wisdom should be heeded. There is a tendency for misplaced self-congratulation, no doubt. However LDV is a public forum and you can’t blame the leadership for trying to point out signs of progress and for putting a positive gloss on things. More privately, though, we do look to the relevant institutions to be realistic about the problems faced; in internal organisation, with overall narratives & policymaking, and with public perceptions of the Lib Dems more generally.

  • James Baillie 21st Jul '18 - 10:13pm

    Others have already said their piece on the idea of a “political realignment” – I share concerns about what this means, I hold party democracy in very high regard and would like the leadership to be more vocal in presenting it as a feature, not a bug, of the Lib Dem system.

    I also think that, whilst there’s some very good stuff in some of Vince’s economic pronouncements, we need more to catch the eye and build more of a vision. It feels sometimes as if Vince is still working to a ministerial, not an opposition leader’s, brief with his approach to policy; there is good detail, especially on tackling the tech giants, but we lack the sense of vision and direction that is needed to tie that together into an appealing package for the people who should be the Lib Dems’ core vote. This is not for lack of party members who want to build more ambitious liberal policy or who have the ability to give powerful and coherent explanations of our ideology – our leadership don’t seem to be making use of the people in the party as well as they should do in areas of policy and vision.

  • Neil Sandison 22nd Jul '18 - 11:24am

    The old tribalism and blind loyalty to one party is becoming increasingly unpopular . ,Politics is becoming more and more issue based and less class based. In terms of realignment you may well see new alliances form on core issues like the NHS ,housing ,The environment ,transport ,infrastructure .devolution and yes Brexit. As a party born out of one alliance should we dig our heals in and object to a new reforming alliance ?reject the Jenkins /Steel legacy that shaped the Liberal Democrats that helped put us back on the agenda ? An alliance of reform and renewal willing to promote change with new heart may have the emotional appeal to electors tired of the dogmatism of current politics of the Westminister bubble.

  • Peter Hirst 23rd Jul '18 - 1:34pm

    Could members of other Parties be supporters of the Liberal Democrats? We might borrow their support to reverse Brexit. How much appeal would such an approach have?

  • I am always disappointed when one of our MPs or members of the House of Lords writes an article for LDV but they don’t then respond to the comments. It is like they just wish to tell us things and not engage in a conversation. (I wonder what their thinking is on why they will not engage with the comments section.) And I am always pleased to see when ex-MPs (I can’t remember when a serving MP has commented on LDV) or members of the House of Lords actually do engage with comments made on LDV articles.

  • Peter Watson 24th Jul '18 - 3:05pm

    @Michael BG “I can’t remember when a serving MP has commented on LDV”
    I do recall being hugely impressed by Ed Davey doing that a few times, commenting in the thread below an article that bore his name.

  • Simon Banks 17th Sep '18 - 1:59pm

    Yes to co-operating with people outside the party, including groups within other parties with whom we share something important. No to coalition with Corbyn or the Tories as they are, but not no to any coalition forever. No to losing a Liberal identity in a new Centrist party.

    Polls change. Parties that struggle to get national media attention generally score low in the polls before an election is called. If we want to assess the health of the party, we should look at how many councillors we’re electing and how many local elections are contested: these are signs of how strong the party organisation is and how motivated the activists are.

    Yes, we need to reach out to far more people whose views roughly coincide with ours – about 30% of the electorate. But Vince’s presentation of proposed party reforms as something largely driven by the Federal People Development Committee with him presumably waiting to see what they come up with, is disingenuous. He has very specific ideas which need careful examination one by one, not accepting on the grounds that the only alternative is more of the same.

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