Vince for PM: How it might happen

Richard Coward, writing for American not for profit news site the Fair Observer, suggests that our Vince could lead a Government of national unity aimed at stopping Brexit or at least remaining the single market.

It certainly requires the alignment of many disparate forces, but it’s not the daftest scenario on the planet:

Somehow or other, pro-European Labour and Conservative MPs are eventually going to have to find a way to cooperate with each other in the national interest. Only by doing so can they defeat the hard-line Brexiteers. Moreover, since the EU will only negotiate with a government, they are going to have to take control of the executive branch in order to save Britain from catastrophe. Endlessly sniping from the legislature might be able to create paralysis by amending or blocking the domestic laws required to enact Brexit, but this strategy will not be sufficient to resolve the crisis.

The central difficulty in achieving this task is that Conservative MPs wishing to remain in the single market will never allow a left-wing Labour leader to enter Downing Street, and Labour MPs will never agree to support a Conservative politician as prime minister. But confronted with the enormity of the imminent economic disaster facing Britain and their own constituents, they might just agree to cooperate in a temporary government of national unity if they could identify a compromise prime minister acceptable to them all.


Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, could fulfil this role. His small centrist party in the House of Commons has just 12 MPs. Yet he is well-known by the general public and widely respected across the political spectrum. He also has a great deal of experience, ranging from chief economist at Shell to five years as business secretary in the last Conservative-led coalition government. At 74, his advanced age would generally be viewed as a drawback in politics, but here it becomes an advantage, since he has no long-term political career in front of him. He is a political heavyweight leading a small party and without a future — perfect for the job in hand.

Now the idea of Cable leading a government of national unity as prime minister sounds rather dramatic at first. It seems to break all the rules. Yet we would only be replacing the present arrangement between the Conservatives and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party with a different governing coalition between the parliamentary Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and a pro-single market group of Conservatives. An emergency coalition agreement would have to be negotiated between these three groups, each of which would be represented in the Cabinet. The coalition agreement would also need to be fully supported by the Scottish and Welsh Nationalist Parties, whose backing would be required for votes in the House of Commons.

These negotiations would no doubt be tricky, as they must cover all areas of government and not just Brexit. However, if we recall that the negotiations between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in 2010 only required a few days and successfully resulted in a stable coalition government that lasted for a full parliamentary term of five years, the task would not appear impossible. There is nothing like political urgency and the high cost of failure to focus the minds of politicians.

There would have to be two deputy prime ministers in Britain — one from the Labour Party and the other from the rebel Conservative group. The two deputies would effectively be in joint charge of the government, since either could bring Cable’s administration crashing down in the House of Commons. Even if they didn’t actually force a vote of no confidence, no legislation would be able to pass the House of Commons without their mutual consent.

You will have to read on to find out how the author thinks this could play out. I’m not sure the endgame is plausible, however much most Lib Dems would like to see PR delivered.

Vince himself has said that his being PM is possible rather than probable. However if we are going to get beyond resigned acceptance of our fate and fight for what we believe in, we have to go for what seems beyond ambition. We need to show people how we can do this.

What do you think?


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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Arthur Trussel 27th Sep '17 - 11:07am

    A good idea, but I fear that the other two tend to put their party before the country- unlike the sacrifice the Lib/Dems made for the country in 2010.
    I just don’t quite agree with the bit:
    ” He is a political heavyweight leading a small party and without a future ”
    The future is ours to make.

  • It would also be a breakaway group of Labour MPs since at the moment the official Labour line is Brexit. Difficult to see the numbers stacking up even before we consider what such a government would seek to achieve.

  • What do you think?….
    Right up there with unicorns, faerie gold and flying pigs…The same sort of articles were posted on here, between 2010/15, as we lost councillors, MEPs and bye-election deposits…
    We are seen as a ‘one-trick-pony’ and, if we can’t even inspire the 48% ‘remainers’ to vote for us, we need to go back to the drawing board….
    When asked by the media, “What is your number one priority?” Corbyn instantly shot back, “Housing!”…What would our response be? …I don’t know

    BTW… Every time I read about the “sacrifice the Lib/Dems made for the country in 2010.” I put my head in my hands and groan!

  • Attended a meeting last night at which A.C.Grayling outlined his perception of where we are and the odds of stopping Brexit in its tracks.He was optimistic, as a Labour member,that the Labour party would come to its senses although he admitted that Corbyns anti European views made it more difficult. He argued that Parliament had a substantial Remain majority and that differing circumstances might bring them together. Tories seem to be saying the time is not right but we will strike sometime. Labour whispers there are plans afoot which will change the partys stance,Grayling felt that there were signs this was happening. The Lib Dems got a brief mention ie the party was already in the right position.
    He mentioned the numerous court cases floating around and said these could force changes on the Government. Theresa Mays speech,for him,showed a change in her thinking and gave hope that staying in an arrangement that resembled now, gave the country opportunity to cancel Article 50 for a longer period.
    He hinted at plans that he couldnt talk about which would make our continued membership more likely.
    One member of the audience opposed continued membership but made the mistake of suggesting Grayling had saqid that those who voted Leave wer scum,stupid etc, the unfortunate tactics of leave and Gryling pointed out that he had siad none of those things and coldly shot down the thought s of this questioner.
    Sorry not full or detailed comment and I hope I havent quoted Grayling inaccurately
    Great meeting in Canterbury

  • Absolute and utter fantasy.

    Even if a part of the Labour Party were willing to join a (very small) part of the Conservative Party, the electoral arithmetic of such a fantasy deal with 12 Lib Dems, 1 Green and the SNP still would not remotely produce a Parliamentary majority.

    It’s time the Liberal Democrats got back to the real world on this issue.

  • Thank heaven to see this scenario spelled out at last. It is perfectly feasible, thanks to the Fixed Term Parliament Act. How plausible, obviously, is another question – but publicising the option can only help. The programme would have to include electoral reform: perhaps a simple measure, such as the Scots model or Jenkins proposal, for the next GE, accompanied by a cross- and non- party Commission for the longer term. Apart from being necessary in itself that would give rebels from all sides a chance to return despite their party machines, which they would entirely deserve.

  • Phil Wainewright 27th Sep '17 - 12:37pm

    I mapped out pretty much the same scenario a week after the general election:

    The most important missing ingredient at present is popular support – it would be a lot more plausible if the LibDems were gaining momentum and running at 15-20% in the opinion polls rather than still bumping along at 7-8%.

    So it’s essential to get a positive message out and to carry on putting in the groundwork in local campaigns. Every voter we persuade now helps build that momentum.

  • Phil Wainewright 27th Sep ’17 – 12:37pm…………….The most important missing ingredient at present is popular support……….still bumping along at 7-8%…..

    A bit like saying to myself, “If I had another £999,993 I’d be a millionaire”..Equally true; equally unlikely!

  • Red Liberal 27th Sep '17 - 1:09pm

    Remote as the changes of this actually happening are, Uncle Vince would make the best PM out of the current party leaders by virtue of not being an isolationist nationalist.

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Sep '17 - 1:16pm

    I’ve been saying this since the choice for Prime Minister has been Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May. The Commons should elect the PM, like the Welsh Assembly elects their First Minister and (I think) the Scottish Parliament elects theirs. The Queen shouldn’t have a say in the choice, but people get emotional when it comes to the Queen and the Monarchy.

  • Could we just even for one week stop going on about Brexit and Europe.
    If we are going to get any sort of increase in popular support it will have to come from some basic bread and butter issue. The penny on income tax for the National health Service is an example.
    PS Latest Opinium Poll on Europe 46% would vote Remain, 45% Leave, Do not know 9%, dated 19.9.2017

  • An inspired and creative scenario, and it’s good to know that Cable would be waiting in the wings, well prepared, should some political emergency force this kind of radical solution. The cliff edge might be sufficient threat to rouse the public, if May does not get away with the anodyne “Brexit Now Pay Later” ploy that she proposed in Florence.

  • Roger Billins 27th Sep '17 - 1:24pm

    I agree that this proposition is ludicrous. The problem with Corbyn being a successful leader of Labour is that Remain politicians in the Conservative and Labour parties are so scared of rocking the boat that they won’t act according to principle, particularly when we are under 10% in the polls. For anything radical to happen, it would take a major split
    In the Conservatives over Brexit and with us on 15%. Still unlikely but at least plausible.

  • Peter Martin 27th Sep '17 - 1:53pm

    “Now the idea of Cable leading a government of national unity as prime minister sounds rather dramatic at first.”

    It sounds rather unlikely too! The numbers just aren’t there in the HoC for such an alliance.

    In wartime we can have Government of National Unity if everyone is genuinely united. But the country, and the two major political parties , are riven on the EU. There just isn’t any degree of unity.

  • ” he has no long-term political career in front of him. He is a political heavyweight leading a small party (faction) and without a future — perfect for the job in hand.

    This would have to apply to the deputy PM’s from Labour, the Conservatives and the SNP as well e.g. Peter Mandelson (who has previously served in cabinet as a Peer) , Ken Clarke and Alex Salmond all joining together with Vince on one last hurrah in a government of national unity.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 27th Sep '17 - 3:44pm


  • William Fowler 27th Sep '17 - 3:46pm

    Much more likely we end up with President McDonald after the queen passes on…

  • Lorenzo Cherin 27th Sep '17 - 3:48pm

    I am used to our Stephen Tall with fantasy football….

    As with Paul and expats, we need to get off this and onto the things that can and should happen but won,t if we keep at this.

    We see ugly attitudes too often in politics, see the conference fringe in Brighton , worse , the Alternative for Germany.

    Only the mainstream offer a way through, so why not be mainstream ?!

  • Caron is correct – it’s not the daftest scenario on the planet.
    The trouble is that it was pushed into second place by a three-in-a-bed scandal involving the Loch Ness monster, Shergar and Elvis.
    Best to move on from these fantasies and try and do that adult thing. The prospect of PM Vince is quite small.

  • paul barker 27th Sep '17 - 7:12pm

    After everythin thats happened over the last few years I am unwilling to say that anything is likely or not.
    Its true that so far theres been little progress in our National Polling but past recoveries have started with with improving Local results & that is now happening.

  • David Evans 27th Sep '17 - 7:22pm

    Here’s another article from Lib Dems so we can pretend we haven’t made a total mess of things, while real things continue to get worse all around us. Pretending now is the time to go beyond ambition and get beyond resigned acceptance of our fate and fight for what we believe in, while throughout coalition the message here was that it was essential that we accepted our fate and didn’t have an ambition beyond wait for 2015 when the voters would surely realise what a great job we had done, really does take the biscuit.

    As Arthur Trussel says, the future is ours to make. It’s just that Nick has left us with only 8% and 12 MPs to make it from: Charlie/Ming had left him with 22% and 64 MPs to make his future from.

  • Peter Watson 27th Sep '17 - 8:46pm

    @paul barker “After everythin thats happened over the last few years I am unwilling to say that anything is likely or not.”
    What exactly is “everything that’s happened over the last few years” which was such a great surprise and which means anything is possible?

    The Lib Dems’ awful election performances were predictable by the end of 2010 and the party did nothing to avoid it while many ignored the evidence and denied things would be as bad as they turned out.

    The result of the EU referendum was predictable by anybody looking at public opinion and the poor campaign to remain in the EU: i made £300 from my only ever bet by putting money on Brexit (softening the blow of the result since I voted for Remain) and I was disappointed that Remainers in general and Lib Dems in particular could not see what was happening and react accordingly.

    Once people were able to listen to Jeremy Corbyn instead of perceiving him through a very biased media (either anti-Labour or simply anti-Corbyn), it turns out they didn’t think he was such a monster and they quite liked some of his ideas (some of which the Lib Dems themselves might have endorsed at one time).

    Even overseas, it looks like the so-called “establishment” was taken by surprise by public support for Trump or Macron, suggesting a serious disconnect between that “establishment” and the people of those countries.

    The only surprise is just how remote from public opinion the leadership of the Lib Dems has looked for several years, and by not understanding it, the party looks unlikely to be able to influence it. The party appears to have become part of the establishment rather than one which challenges it and the status quo. I’ve given up expecting anything to change, but a faint hope still lingers.

  • @ Joe B.
    Suggesting the Baron Mandelson as Deputy Prime Minister confirms you have a sense of humour – and there’s a problem with Wee Eck as the SNP rep – he crashed and burned in Gordon last May. It’s more likely he’s going to end up on the comedy circuit with Lembit.

    Much as I would like to see the worthy Sir Vincent as PM – and it was certainly a good attention grabber when he floated the idea – I’d be much happier if the party could stop day dreaming and get its collective head round some relevant radical policies that had a resonance with the British electorate and dealt with some of the more obvious problems this country is facing.

  • Richard Coward writes, “As the leader of the second largest party in Parliament, it would then be for the leader of the Labour Party to propose to the monarch that the leader of the Liberal Democrats be requested to try form a government of national unity.” I think it is unlikely that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership would support any government accept a Labour one. It is unlikely that the 30 Labour MPs who are in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet would support a coalition. It is also unlikely that the 30 new Labour MPs would support a coalition.

    The May government could only be removed via the Fixed Term Parliament Act with a vote of no confidence, which would need some Conservative MP’s either to support or abstain. Richard Coward is perhaps correct that these Conservative MPs would only abstain or vote to no confidence a Conservative government if they knew there would not be a Corbyn government. If there were about 140 Conservative MPs who would support a Liberal Democrat led coalition there would need to be about 130 Labour MP supporters of such a coalition government, some of whom would need to either abstain or vote against a confidence motion in a proposed Corbyn government under the Fixed Term Parliament Act. It might be easier for Conservative MPs to break away (what would they call their new party?) than Labour ones. The Conservative MPs would be likely to be able to raise money, even if they will not retain many Conservative members. The Labour MPs would not have the support of any Trade Unions (again I wonder what they would call their new party?) and would know they would face de-selection for voting down a potential Labour government and supporting a coalition government without the Labour leadership. Also they can’t forget 1931 and the end of the political careers of most of the SDP MPs in 1983 general election.

    Who would these 130 Labour MPs be?

    Hilary Benn, Margaret Becket, Angela Eagle, Ed Miliband, Harriet Harman, Yvette Cooper, John Healey, Chuka Umunna, Liam Byrne, Rachel Reeves, Stephen Twigg, Vernon Coaker, Caroline Flint, Meg Hillier, Maria Eagle, Mary Creagh, Ivan Lewis, Lucy Powell, Chris Leslie, Jon Cruddas, Ruth Cadbury, Catherine West and Andy Slaughter?

  • Oh, I don’t know David, the Conference seemed to suggest new taxes on our houses, our savings, our property and even our education with not the smallest attempt at economic revival. Well apart from the stereotypical piffle of “invest in skills and infrastructure”.
    Isn’t that radical enough?

  • David Evans 28th Sep '17 - 7:53am

    Apologies. Nick left us with 8% and 8 MPs. Under Tim we lost a bit of that 8% but got up to 12 MPs.

  • Improving local results: let us see what happens today, in one Harrogate ward, (remember we held Harrogate at MP level for 13 years), we do not even have a candidate!

  • It’s irrelevant if the party made the sacrifice if no one knows or more to the point cares. Will times get better for the Lib Dems, probably as reality shreds the Brexiteers and eventually does the same to Labour but that is a waiting game, in the mean time a nice catchy strap line would do and “We woz right” doesn’t cut it.

  • Michael Meadowcroft 28th Sep '17 - 10:05am

    The great Ramsay Muir, who was a key figure in the inauguration and maintenance of the Liberal Summer School and the main writer of the preamble to the 1936 Liberal party constitution, wrote a book at the beginning of the 1929 minority Labour government, under the pseudonym “Solomon Slack”, entitled “Robinson the Great” in which he sets out how Robinson, as leader of a fifty strong Liberal parliamentary party, became a successful Prime Minister. Well worth reading.

  • Peter Watson – you have to remember that for many years @Paul Barker has been telling us that Labour were on the verge of collapse/splitting and that would put us in a position where our recovery was almost assured. It was another of those straws that so many supporters of Nick Clegg chose to cling to when it was clear that their hero was actually destroying Liberal Democracy.

    Sadly there are still a lot of people in the party now who would rather prevaricate and discuss fantasy than face reality, and exactly the same mistakes are being made, which are preventing our recovery. As Theakes points out, today we have no candidate in Harrogate, Washburn Ward by election; but there are Con, Lab, Green and Yorkshire First. In 2012 the Lib Dems finished second in the ward! Until Phil Willis stood down as MP in 2010, he held Harrogate for the Lib Dems, and in 2017 it was one of the few seats we were still in second place in the North. On this evidence, we will be behind Labour next time.

    Of course the longer this self comforting “Something will turn up that will save us” mindset goes on, the less we do and the more difficult and less likely our recovery becomes.

  • Katharine Pindar 28th Sep '17 - 10:41am

    Realistic calculation by Michael BG would seem to put paid to the idea, pleasant though it is, and Peter Watson seems to have seen more clearly than most of us (though, Peter, I don’t think you will have predicted Trump). Realistically, surely the more likely future scenario is of a Labour Government, with us perhaps invited to let Vince be a minister. One of the things we should try and convert Labour to is the need for PR, but I guess they are not responsive to that.

    However, all is not lost, for I think with Frankie that our fortunes will improve as the Brexiteers hopes continue to be dashed. The EU negotiations are going nowhere, and I believe the Irish border question in particular is insoluble. The proposed transition period, even if agreed, gets us no further towards permanently remaining in the internal market and the customs union. As desperation grows in Labour and Tories alike, as the months of winter pass with no solutions, isn’t it possible that our referendum proposal becomes the only way forward? It will throw the onus back on the British people to decide, without either of the main parties losing face by major position change or splitting. They are precariously balancing each other, both refusing to come off the fence (which, friends, must be highly uncomfortable for all those men!), and the referendum will allow them to park the decision with the public.

    Since there are more Remainers than Leavers now according to Opinium, the referendum will go as we wish, and our credit as the party who got it right will soar. All that really is possible.

  • Katharine, Corbyn inviting Vince into a Labour government!!?? and “Since there are more Remainers than Leavers now according to Opinium, the referendum will go as we wish, and our credit as the party who got it right will soar. All that really is possible.” You will be getting a reputation for understated satire if you carry on.

    The question is “How, when so few people now trust us, do we actually work to get a referendum past an intransigent government, and an even more intransigent Labour party, and then get people to even notice we deserve the Credit?”

  • Katharine Pindar 28th Sep '17 - 12:56pm

    David, you and I must by now be known as the apostles, respectively, of gloom and cheeriness! Each of us provokes the opposite reaction from the other. That’s all right! Let’s see what others think. Kind wishes, anyway.

  • Kevin Hawkins 28th Sep '17 - 1:29pm

    Harrogate Council’s Washburn ward is part of the Conservative-held Skipton & Ripon constituency – it was never part of the Harrogate & Knaresborough constituency which Phil Willis used to hold.

  • Dave Orbison 28th Sep '17 - 1:48pm

    I mainly agree with Lorenzo who I hope is sitting down should he read this.

    The LibDems have just 12 MP’s. In 1981 with 11 or so Liberals MP’s, David Steel was ridiculed for his speech “Go back to your constituencies and prepare for Government”. The clip was endlessly replayed over the years as a means of mocking him and the LibDems as they became.

    Now we have Vince Cable talking up his desire to be PM and even debates on what the terms would be as to who could lead Labour etc in the event of some grand coalition.

    People are more interested in what politicians are prepared to do to solve our problems and less so in their careers and fantasies of how they would get to No 10.

    What little credibility the LibDems have will evaporate if they spend all their time dreaming about this stuff instead of campaigning on a broad range of policy fronts – hint not just the EU.

    As for the LibDems entering the Coalition on the ‘national interest’. Come on let’s get real. All politicians believe they act in the National interest. In respect of the LibDems, the electorate beg to differ.

  • paul barker 28th Sep '17 - 1:54pm

    On the question of whether we have seen a Local recovery. If we are going to look at Local results its important not to cherry-pick those that fit with what we already believe. We need to compare like with like & look at all the results, every week.
    Luckily for everyone else I have already been doing that. Our vote has risen by around 5 or 6% since the low point in early July but we are still behind where we were in May. So, a satisfactory rate of improvement from a very low base.
    If we go on improving our Local results then at some point we can expect that to feed into our National Polling. Dont hold your breath though, on past form that could be next Year.
    I am just reporting what has happened over the last 3 Months – that does not constitute a prediction.

  • Neil Sandison 28th Sep '17 - 1:58pm

    A more likely scenario will be growing descent in Conservative and Labour ranks about the type of Brexit they are being offered and an unwillingness to fall into line when 3 line whips are called .Those members may well defect to our ranks or call by-elections reducing the governments majority even further .We could see a repeat in history for example a new SD/Liberal Democrat alliance that attracted 50% in the opinion polls and a grand coalition in parliament headed by Vince and an emerging new opposition leader as Deputy PM .

  • Kevin: In the not so distant past I recall Skipton constituency was very good for our party, did we not get withing 2,000 votes from winning one year, look at it now. Knaresborough again in the same sort of position. Based on our history we should be in a much much better position than we are. Tuition Fees & staying in the coalition crippled us and now we have surrendered our potential to Labour. As I said lets see what happens today for a realistic assessment.

  • paul barker 28th Sep '17 - 3:51pm

    On Labours position, it is designed to offend as few Voters as possible, if Public Opinion on Brexit shifts then Labour will shift to follow it. Corbyn is an old “Socialism in One Country” type but he has shown that he can be pragmatic.
    There are already senior Labour figures calling for a Referendum on the final shape of Brexit.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 28th Sep '17 - 4:26pm


    I am sitting down, but actually you and I agree on many things , as we do not also, but always are in good standing so feel free to be your usual self, honest.

    I think Sir Vince would be a very good pm.

    I do not think it is worth thinking it through as to how and in what way it could happen, not often unless to console as to our state of electoral success .

    The option is open to us to be aligned to the centre left direction more obviously, leaving complete equidistance alone and recognising where the country needs to be at and in what way move forward.

    This does not mean a left wing stance but a progressive and exciting , because realistic and doable, agenda.

    Vince got it on Question Time.

    Corbyn did well in the conference speech but the cult is a little creepy.

  • Chris Burden 28th Sep '17 - 5:34pm

    Vince Cable for PM? Why not? One of the few adults in the Commons. Widely known and highly respected. Leader of a united party which has maintained clear positions on the EU and Brexit. Why not, indeed?

  • Martin Land 28th Sep '17 - 6:15pm

    “Well, Harry, I know we are not supposed to interfere in the affairs of Muggles, but they really are getting themselves in a mess. Can’t we make that Vince Cable PM?”
    “Come off it Ron. We’re wizards not miracle workers.”

  • David Evans 28th Sep '17 - 7:19pm

    Katharine, I suppose we need to consider which of us is which and to whom. You are looking at the stars. I am interested in getting us out of the mire, as the first stage of us getting there.

  • @ Katharine Pindar
    “Realistic calculation by Michael BG would seem to put paid to the idea”

    Thanks for this. The Opinium figures are:
    Referendum vote – Leave 917, Remain 850, Didn’t vote 237;
    Now – Leave 873, Remain 893, Will not vote 97, Don’t know 142 (strange the numbers do not agree!) one or two more people are in the will not vote, don’t know group, 43 people have changed from Leave to Remain (
    A change from 51.9% : 48.1% to 49.4% : 50.6%. I am surprised by this. Is this reflected in other polls?

  • Little Jackie Paper 28th Sep '17 - 9:47pm

    Isn’t there a wider problem though here? The scenario in the article appears to bypass a rather important group of people – the electorate.

    My instinct remains that one sure way to bring UKIP back would be to basically prove their point and have an ‘EU stitch-up.’

    Instead of political gymnastics and dealing wouldn’t a better way be to try to get to an EU and a vision of a UK within that EU that people might actually want to vote for without having to grit their teeth? Or, for the short-term at least, the EEA option.

    As it stands Corbyn is probably right for the moment – no point in entertaining the media when plainly there is a real split across society. His stance has a shelf-life of course. At some point he is going to have to say rather more than he has so far – but let the process play out.

  • Katharine Pindar 29th Sep '17 - 12:24am

    ‘Two men looked out through prison bars. One saw mud, the other stars.’ Well, I suppose, David E., both the mud and the stars were there, and at least you and I are not behind bars, even metaphorically! My point holds, I maintain: both the main parties, stuck in their non-committal balancing act for fear of the other side gaining advantage, may eventually come to see a referendum as the way forward, because it will avoid the commitment they fear by throwing the onus back on the electorate.

    Michael BG, you are always diligent and helpful in producing facts! I suppose one little opinion poll won’t tip the balance our way, but it isn’t the first I’ve seen, and with others to come surely revealing the dissatisfaction of the electorate with the main parties’ growing internal dissent and irresolute stance, there must be a chance of a pro-referendum movement becoming significant within the next few months. (Oh, by the way, Dave Orbison, we do have a wide range of other good policies too! And hopefully, Lorenzo, we will stay in the centre-left orbit as you suggest.)

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 29th Sep '17 - 8:31am

    Katharine, you rightly point out that, in the poem you quote, the “mud” and the “stars” were both there.
    I’m not quite sure how applicable the analogy is to the specific question of a “referendum on the deal”. But I do feel that, in general, liberals are, or should be, people who are able to see both the “mud ” and the “stars”. Who can see all the things that are wrong with the world, and at the same time to see the good that there is, and to have a vision of how things could be.
    The “Two men [who] looked out through prison bars”, were not able to do anything about the “mud”, or to make the “stars” brighter. But we can!

  • paul barker 28th Sep ’17 – 3:51pm……….On Labours position, it is designed to offend as few Voters as possible, if Public Opinion on Brexit shifts then Labour will shift to follow it. Corbyn is an old “Socialism in One Country” type but he has shown that he can be pragmatic…….

    Thank you for that.; it’s nice to end the week with a smile…

    Considering that you’ve a history explaining how Labour’s policies ‘offended everyone’ and that Corbyn was an unreformable ‘Stalinist’ this ‘new’ view, although equally wide of the mark, shows that miracles can happen…

    Vince for PM.

  • Dave Orbison 29th Sep '17 - 1:11pm

    Katherine- of course you have other policies but that’s the shame of this stuff. Those policies, good or bad, are so overshadowed by the LibDens self belief that they have the moral ground on Brexit and their focus on this issue to the near exclusion of others , they may as well not exist.

    It’s clear Corbyn is playing the smarter game. He is trying to do the impossible be drawing strands of both camps closer together- not everyone obviously.

    The LibDems and Tories are simply content on telling one half of the electorate they are wrong.

  • Katharine Pindar 29th Sep '17 - 4:06pm

    You evidently have faith in Corbyn’s ‘game’, Dave O. I should have thought he finds it difficult and painful in fact to reconcile socialist principle and history with the wanting of his young followers to stay in the EU. In any case the ‘games’ of both Labour and Tories are going nowhere – it’s simply disguised ‘ we want our cake and eat it’ all over again.

    As for us, we can’t but concentrate on getting rid of Brexit, Dave, because we have to convince enough people that it is possible and right, to hold a successful referendum before March 2019. But we remain active and committed on other fronts. You might have noticed that there are now Tories anxious to stop the roll-out of Universal Credit because, especially, of the six months or more that people have to wait to get the pay-out. We passed a motion on this very theme at Bournemouth, so I hope our Press Office will be sending out a release to let the Media know this. And we have a Leader who is as strong on inequality and the needs of youth, for instance for decent housing, as your man can be. Incidentally, your lot haven’t suggested modifying the triple lock benefiting pensioners, as our party agreed last year for richer pensioners.

    Catherine, I like your vision! Let us be visionaries by all means, but not of course mere dreamers like the Brexiteers.

  • Dave Orbison 29th Sep '17 - 5:24pm

    Katharine – I think you overestimate the LibDems’ ability to influence people. The LibDem’s approach on the EU was crystal clear at the last election. How many of the Remain voters did it attract, let alone win over some of the Brexit supporters?

    I have always felt that Corbyn’s plan is to chart a position much closer to Remain that the LibDems have given him credit for and that he is being canny not least by allowing the Tories to makes a complete mess of things. With time the pendulum would swing towards a more pro Remain stance. I arguing for a second referendum, and especially too early in the day, whilst it provides clear blue water between the LibDems and others, risks offending many, even some Remain supporters who struggle with the idea that once a referendum has been determined we should set it aside and keep going until we get the ‘right’ result.

    Yes, I know the campaign was a farce. But it was on both sides. Yes, I know that opinions may (hopefully) being swinging back in favour of Remain and the Referendum wasn’t binding too. But politicians risk irreparable damage in the public’s eye if they are seen to cherry-pick which results they accept and which they do not.

    On the other matter, opposition to Universal Credit, you simply illustrate my point. Instead of Vince Cable attacking Labour and talking up nonsense of Venezuela etc etc, he could loosely work with Labour on jointly attacking the Tories on polices which are so detrimental to the NHS, public services and the vulnerable. Every resource spent attacking Labour is one less on the Tories and in my view a left leaning LibDem Party and Corbyn’s Labour Party offer much more hope that the Tories and the Orange-book brigade.

  • Katharine Pindar 30th Sep '17 - 12:39am

    Dave, I too want a left-leaning Lib Dem party, which I think we in fact are, but if you are defending Labour’s ‘constructive ambiguity’ as the phrase goes these days, isn’t it equally politiic for the Lib Dems not to be seen as favouring either of the two big parties? And as for Universal Credit, it seems to be Tories as well as independent people who are protesting about its roll-out and asking for a pause.

    You are correct in noting that the Lib Dems haven’t had much influence in persuading Remainers to stay the course, so I just hope that you are right in your suggestion that JC (having persuaded many natural Lib Dem voters among the Remainers to turn to Labour in the GE) may be biding his time before perhaps backing the proposed follow-up referendum. It won’t happen unless Labour backs it, that seems certain. And we can agree that what’s needed first is sufficient public demand for it. Hopeful note, apart from the latest Opinium poll: in the Sky News review of the papers tonight, the male reviewer was talking of the referendum as something quite likely to happen.

  • Arnold Kiel 30th Sep '17 - 1:26pm

    Engineering an “Exit from Brexit” by March 21, 2019 is not trivial. Let’s go back from the required endpoint of a legally effective Article 50 revocation. This needs a majority in Parliament, as established by the Supreme Court. I cannot immagine such a step without a Remain-Government following, ready to manage the massive domestic and foreign consequences of such legislation. Otherwise, there will be total chaos.

    This Government could be the result of elections or rebellions. No point in hypothesizing here how another snap-election could be brought-about within one year. But more importantly, this would only work, if some winning Remain-coalition were formed. Also very hard, as we know such a coalition would have to be cross-Labor and cross-Conservative, i.e. anyhow requiring rebellions. For all of this to work in time, the underlying divisions must surface within a few months. Consequently, the EU-UK-negotiations could not be concluded.

    This scenario is already exceeding my imagination, and I find it utterly unimaginable to fit another referendum into this timeline, as it could not substitute the above-described Parliament-dynamics but would come on top, both in terms of complexity and time. What we have learned from last time: you need two Governments-in-waiting with a thought-through implementation-plan for both outcomes, which is impossible. In effect, such a referendum would be an unhedged bet on remaining. Very risky: rational thought and debate continue to be in short supply. The leave-side of this campaign would, again, have no specific or plausible endgame, and would, again, resort to plain propaganda.

    So you would need both: a remain-win in the referendum, and a robust remain-Government that has any chance of mending domestic and international fences. Very hard to immagine, especially achieving all of this within 18 months.

    The only exit from Brexit I can imagine is a vote to revoke Article 50 by a single-purpose majority of PMs, execution of this revocation by some caretaker-PM (god knows how to get him/her appointed by a Leave-Queen), followed by new snap-elections fought by a leave- and a remain-camp. Sir Vince might well be that PM who visits Brussels once between two trips to Buckingham Palace. A short, but historic role.

  • Katharine Pindar 30th Sep '17 - 4:41pm

    Arnold, it’s great that you have thought through the processes, political and legal, that an Exit from Brexit might entail, and it is not surprising that you are daunted by your reasoning. But surely the immediate required action by the majority in Parliament which we hope to achieve will be to announce a referendum, say in October 2018? The revocation of Article 50 will not take place unless and until a sufficient majority is acquired by the referendum vote. I know that Parliamentary sovereignty would allow the action without a referendum, but the democratic way forward is for the people to make the final choice.

    There is always the possibility of them still voting to leave, but if the Brits in Europe are allowed to vote, and a threshold is established as to proportion of the electorate voting and what majority is acceptable, with the arguments by then fully known and the evils of Brexit recognised, it should surely be do-able. I leave the detail to the lawyers, but a suitable Shakespearean quote comes to mind – ‘But screw your courage to the sticking place, and we’ll not fail.’ No murder required in this case!

  • Arnold Kiel 30th Sep '17 - 8:36pm

    Katharine, thank you for responding and helping in thinking this through. If I follow your preference for a referendum first, the following issues come to mind:

    Legislating another referendum would be impossible for T.May and therefore tantamount to a no-confidence-vote against her Government. This implies a preceding or simultaneous change of Government with a clear remain-preference, fit for a remain-scenario only.

    Given the preceding leadership crisis of the country, the EU-UK negotiations will have finished in an impasse by then. The leave-option would still not be clear.

    I agree that normally proper referendum-rules should apply (quorum, expat-participation, etc.), but can you legitimately cancel out one referendum by another one that was carried out under different rules?

    If this referendum results in a revocation of the Art. 50 notification by March 21, 2019, we are fine. However, if leave wins again, nobody can force the EU to abide by the achieved negotiation-status, unless an unlikely prior agreement by the EU to stand still can be obtained. In this scenario, a negotiation-team (i.e. leave-cabinet) would have to re-established, the negotiations must be finalized and ratified by all relevant bodies by March 2019. This puts even more time pressure on the referendum-decision.

    While I believe this referendum can be won, but if lost, the clear prospects of a repeat of the June 24, 2016-experience (without the luxury to start the Article 50 process when ready) is a strong argument against it. I would much rather stop the ticking clock first by an act of Parliament.

    Maybe the demand for a first referendum on the facts must be tactically upheld to gain more and faster acceptance for the idea to revisit the membership question, but I would hope that, if and when a remain-majority becomes reliably measureable, people will also accept the undesireability (and the logistical impracticability) of a repetition of this highly divisive exercise.

  • Katharine Pindar 30th Sep '17 - 10:37pm

    What ‘achieved negotiation status’ are you imagining, Arnold? I can’t see that the negotiations can reach any conclusions satisfactory to both parties, the UK and the EU. However if some unlikely satisfactory compromises are indeed achieved, I suppose Brexit will go ahead. If as I rather suppose the Labour Party at least will not accept them, then it may be possible to defeat the Government on this, which I expect you are right would normally amount to a vote of no confidence, precipitating a General Election. But what if to avoid this scenario which our divided Government certainly doesn’t want, because of the threat of a Corbyn triumph, they concede the referendum without a vote of no confidence having to be moved? They could save face by pretending that in the circumstance of impasse it would be better to refer back to the people.

    As to the rules under which the referendum on the facts might be held, I suppose it would be argued that the rules of June 2015 should in fairness to all be improved. But as to the result, I think we would have to accept that that would be it, and the ‘will of the people’ would this time be legitimate and to be followed. I do not think that we will lose. But of course, I don’t know, these are just the thoughts of one committed Lib Dem and European.

    Commiserations by the way on the diminution of Frau Merkel’s mandate, and the seeming necessity for her to reconcile both the Free Democrats and the Greens to joining with her in coalition. My friend’s family in Germany whom I met last summer are very disappointed in the result.

  • @ Arnold Kiel and Katharine Pindar

    I don’t understand your problems. The Richard Coward scenario has Conservative rebels and the Labour Party uniting around staying in the single market in the early summer of 2018. As I have stated it would have to be Labour rebels but the timetable of June 2018 can still apply. The mythical Vince government comes into office in June 2018 under the Fixed Term Parliament Act procedures, quickly agrees a stay in the single market agreement and either puts this to a referendum before March 2019 or gets a time extension on Article 50 after informing the EU that the government would campaign against the deal and for staying in the EU on our existing terms.

    This is based on at least two assumptions, firstly that the EU would quickly agree terms for the UK to stay in the single market (a Norway like option) and they would like the UK to stay in the EU and so would, if needed, easily agree a time extension on the two years as per Article 50.

  • Katharine Pindar 1st Oct '17 - 8:59pm

    Michael, apologies for not being able to absorb and reply to your comment till now. I didn’t understand it on first reading, because I thought you had concluded that ‘the mythical Vince government’ was impossible, as I think myself. No matter how many Labour rebels there are, or even if Mr Corbyn comes off the fence at last, we have a Government which has with the DUP a majority and will not yield it. I don’t see the Tory possible rebels actually allowing a vote of no confidence to pass – disunited as they obviously are, the instinct of the breed is to stay in power. So the only way forward for the Government, if popular dissent becomes too loud for them, would seem to be to concede a referendum, and so leave it in the people’s hands.

    Whatever happens in the next few months, I think we must continue to point out the futility of the ‘transition period’, which is only useful if the possibility of staying in is ruled out – which it will be after March 2019, unless the Article 50 move is meantime revoked or (I suppose) allowed to be put on hold.

  • @ Katharine Pindar

    Indeed we both concluded that a Vince led government was most unlikely. However Arnold Kiel has not stated this was his position. He was arguing that there was not enough time for a change of government and a referendum, which is not true. There is time.

    We may not wish for there to be a transitional period, but it makes sense. However, if one is agreed then it is unlikely that Brexit will be stopped, because the consequences of Brexit will be delayed.

  • Arnold Kiel 2nd Oct '17 - 8:01am

    Michael and Katharine,

    I still don’t see the dynamics in Parliament and society to develop quickly enough, but impossible it is not. Brussels surely sees this short window, and will insist on a 100% status quo transition, contingent upon full satisfaction on the three separation issues (see the related draft EU-parliament resolution). This may already be enough to derail negotiations, and make no-deal the likely default. This, btw. is not EU intransigence, but the UK failing the trustworthiness-test, also vis-a-vis any other future trade partner.

    Even if the negotiations go ahead and result in a transition-agreement, it is impossible to also agree on the future relationship by then. That means that in April 2019, open-ended negotiations are still ongoing and the transition-bridge leads into fog ahead and is burnt behind you. Uncertainty will give way to panic. In this period, the door for a unilateral return to full membership for the UK is closed, but it would make sense for the EU to reopen it on request. At that point, however, the EU must be convinced that the freshly enlightened British people and its coming Governments will behave as good members, at least for two decades.

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Oct '17 - 11:17pm

    The one thing I feel sure about, Arnold and Michael, is that we should oppose the intended transition period. It is a bridge to nowhere which, as you say Arnold, will be burnt behind us, and, as Michael infers, will simply delay inevitable Brexit. Fortunately the EU negotiators will not allow obscurity to continue, the negotiations will probably break down as our side (!) continues to demand more concessions than can be granted, and then something must give. Hopefully in time to save the country from this self-inflicted harm.

  • @ Arnold Kiel

    You are likely correct rebel MPs from the Conservative and Labour Parties are not likely to be able to agree to remove the May government in the time scale suggested. This is much more likely to be true if there is a transitional period.

    While Katharine sees public opinion moving towards Remain, you are probably correct that public opinion will not move quickly enough for MPs to be mobilised as suggested by Richard Coward and as I have said a transitional period will slow this process down.

    If there is no extension to the two years of Article 50 and negotiations for a post Brexit deal continue during the transitional period (not something I would want) I think it would be wrong for the EU to change the conditions of our membership if they wanted us to re-join quickly after the time period had expired. And no British government could commit a future government to “act as good members”. I think it would be wrong, because the idea of ever closure union has to be given up and the EU should accept a 27 speed EU and it is time our party accepted this.

  • David Evans 3rd Oct '17 - 10:22am

    Michael BG – I wouldn’t cling to any hope that a transition period will give more time to stop Brexit. Remember the Conservatives are the devious party and will use transition to ensure the no turning back moment comes asap. Brexit will legally occur on 29 March 2019: transition will continue for years after that, but the chance to turn back is very limited.

  • @ David Evans

    I do not think a transitional period will stop Brexit, like you I expect us to leave on 29th March 2019. I think a transitional period will mean that people will not change their minds to think Remaining is the right thing for the UK. The costs of leaving will not be seen by 29th March 2019.

    @ Katharine Pindar

    If negotiations break down, I don’t think this will move British public opinion towards Remain. Our only hope is that a deal is negotiated by the summer of 2018 and there is huge support for a referendum on the deal and because the deal is so bad we can win the referendum. However I don’t think there will be a referendum on the deal and we will leave on 29th March 2019 never to return, because the EU will never give us our current terms again.

  • The costs of leaving will not be seen by 29th March 2019.

    I suspect that provided the UK economy does “good enough”(*) then I doubt anyone will see the real effects of leaving and if they do, arguing the case will be difficult.

    I’ve often cited Ireland in the late 90’s as the most obvious beneficiary of the UK’s blowing hot-and-cold over its participation in the EU. Whilst the Irish economy has grown significantly because the UK domestic economy has also been buoyant, people, in general, haven’t missed the investment and jobs that went to Ireland…

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Oct '17 - 6:00pm

    Well, Michael and David, I agree with you that after March 2019 there will be no realistic hope of return to the EU for us. The transitional period is irrelevant in that respect. My own hope, as you have probably gathered, is that the negotiations will be so unproductive that Parliament will agree to a referendum in a year’s time. Roland, I think that the Irish border issue is one that will ensure that the negotiations cannot succeed to the satisfaction of all the parties.

  • @Katharine – Wrt to the N.Ireland border, the question is given the conveyor belt nature of Article 50, what does “the negotiations cannot succeed to the satisfaction of all the parties” actually mean after March 2019 when the UK falls off the conveyor…

    I’m not expecting you to answer the question – as even the Department for Exiting the EU would be unable to answer the question, only to note that given T.May’s approach to the Brexit negotiations, I expect there will be many similar unresolved issues after March 2019. Perhaps having celebrated delivering ‘Brexit’ on 29-Mar-2019, the government will revert to form and quietly sign up to all the demands of the EU – just as previous administrations quietly signed away various opt-outs, that had been loudly proclaimed as being in the UK’s interest…

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