Yesterday we were privileged to welcome Vince Cable to Liverpool. It will be one of his last visits as Leader as he intends to step down to allow a contest for a new Leader to take place in June. Of course, our leadership election will be very different from that which the Conservative Party is embarking on. It will be because we have a Leader who wants to pass over the reins peacefully having done what he sees to eb his job – a job which the rest of the Party think that he has done superbly.
It is always possible that the Labour Party will also have a Leadership election soon. The results of the local elections were poor for Labour. As I write this on the day before the European Election this one looks to be catastrophic for him. At record low levels in the overall popularity stakes he may well be sustained by his cult-like followers at the expense of those like former MEP Michael Cashman, have left the Party in droves.
I want to put on record just how much I think the Lib Dems owe to Vince as we face what is probably the most amazing electoral turnaround (in a positive sense) in our history.
In 2015 we came close to becoming irrelevant. Under Tim Farron we weathered that storm and that was no mean feat. Under his leadership and with his enthusiasm we got our membership base up and steadied the ship. Instead of facing the loss of even more councillors and activists we dug in and strengthened our position in local elections. We did marginally but surprisingly well in the General Election of 2017 increasing our number of MPs from 9 to 12 and crucially getting back into Parliament three heavyweights, Vince himself and the probable contenders for his job next month Ed Davey and Jo Swinson. Tim did us well despite a General Election stumble over one aspect of his beliefs. We should continue to thank him for that.
Then Vince stepped in. He knew he was a caretaker and we knew that he knew! We were content with that because the Lib Dems needed settling down before a leadership election note last because the two probable contenders needed time to settle down and re-establish themselves.
Vince brought five things to us:
Gravitas. Frankly when Vince speaks people listen. He is experienced, knowledgeable and hugely articulate. As a Secretary of State for 5 years he could talk about his experiences in that position.
Calmness. The Party and the public were reassured by the way he behaved especially in comparison with the frenzied behaviour and actions of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.
Principles. When Vince said immediately after his election many people, including many Lib Dems, thought eh was pursuing a dream that had little chance of being delivered. He believed that internationalism as expressed through the prism of the EU in this case was a ‘sacred’ part of being a liberal and should not eb ignored. People liked that. Even those that disagreed with the principle welcomed that fact that he and therefore we had one!
Purpose. The continuing turmoil of the EU negotiations gave as an opportunity to hone in on that principle clearly and without equivocation and to pull behind us the people of other Parties and of none who were beginning to despair of their own Party.
Luck. There was the calm strong man of British politics and who was he confronting? Dippy Theresa and Dopey Jeremy. There could not have been a greater contrast between leadership styles and that was a gift to us from the Tory and Labour Parties. All political Parties need luck and circumstances to advance at crucial times. Though it’s always a truism that those that work the hardest seem to have the most luck!
I told Vince a little of this yesterday. We stormed forth in the locals and will, without a doubt have replicated that experience when the votes are counted on Sunday. We should all say “Thanks Vince – your achievements have been remarkable. You have caused the biggest upset in British politics since the founding of the SDP. We will always be in your debt for this tremendous work”.
Inevitably, that leads us to thoughts of our new Leader and how the Party should develop. Inevitably a new Leader brings a new style and new priorities. The new Leader won’t be Vince mark 2 any More than Tim was Nick mark two. There will be changes, there must be changes but there also needs to be the continuity which allows us to build on the 5 things that I outline above?
Luck is likely to be with us although not possibly at the level we have seen it for the past few months. The Tory and Labour Parties will continue to bleed sentient and reliable members and become much more the Party of the buffoon extremes. More people will join us; more people will get stuck because of fortuitous circumstances outside our control.
Principle. Parties do well when people know what they stand for. For some years now we Lib Dems have known what we stand for but have seemed unable to convince others of those principles. Now we need to add just three of four more radical ideas on housing; the environment/climate change/ fairness and one of two more subjects to add to the EU/Internationalist principles which are firmly inside people’s minds. We need to have them rooted in our principles and talk about them time and time again.
Purpose to absolutely redefine liberals not as a soggy centre but as a hard-hitting radical alternative to the failed ways of the Labour and Conservative Parties.
Calmness. To be relentless, persuasive and reasonable in the way we promote our ideas and policies to and with the people that we serve or aim to serve.
Gravitas. Will now come because of the size of our Party, the number of our Councillors and MEPs and very quickly the number of MPs as well. The Lib Dems can no longer be ignored. We area potent force in British politics once again.
So, thanks Vince you have more than played your part in maintaining and developing our Party. There is so much that we can still learn from you. So perhaps your new role will be Guru to the Party. The magi to whom we turn when counsel is required. Whatever you do you know that 100,000+ Lib Dems are proud to have been part of your army and wish you all the best for whatever road your life now takes you and your wife.