When Tim Farron resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats, the party didn’t have many people to choose from to replace him. Under the current party’s rules, the leader needs to be a Member of Parliament – and with just 12, the race was a tough one. I guess that’s why Lib Dem veteran Vince Cable ended up taking up the reigns, at the age of 74.
He’d been the leader of the Lib Dems previously, so he was certainly the most experienced candidate…but after Nick Clegg lied to Britain’s youth about university fees, and Tim Farron was attacked by the left for his Christian faith, he was hardly the inspiring new face they needed.
Now, it looks like Cable’s finally had enough – and has announced he’ll be standing down as Lib Dem leader next year. He’s done his best to give the party a new lease on life, and I suppose he’s been reasonably successful. Unlike Nick Clegg, who steered the party into what he considered a “middle-ground” direction that picked up votes from either side of the political spectrum, Clegg steered the party down a strictly anti-Brexit line. This wasn’t a liberal party any more, it was a pro-EU party that aimed to pick up as many votes as possible from the large minority who voted to Remain.
Cable once rightly pointed out that the Liberal Democrats are winning by-elections most Thursdays in the UK, and it’s true – but I don’t think it’s just a result of his pro-EU message. The party has historically been very talented at winning local elections. They promise local people the world (and never deliver), and attack the big parties in power. That’s why they boom and bust. When the big parties are screwing up, the Lib Dems position themselves as the reasonable guys and they do well in local elections and maybe gain some Parliamentary seats. When the Lib Dems have any level of influence, as they did following the 2010 election, they’re held to account and they go bust again. It’s a cycle. I think the UK is a three-party system, not a two-party system. This third party always plays a role in British politics, but always ends up with the worst deal.
Here's another attempt at showing how GB councillors have changed over the past 11 months. Scales are equal (but at different levels!), includes defections and suspensions. pic.twitter.com/nHW4ECiFML— Council Data UK (@CouncilDataUK) September 5, 2018
I think Cable knows he needs to break free from this cycle, which is why he’s announced that he’ll be stepping down next year and changing rules to allow non-MPs to become leader.
In a speech, Cable explained that he wanted to transform his party into a “movement for moderates.” He’s noticed the chaos in the Labour Party with its anti-Semitism problem, and he’s realized there are lots of pro-EU Tories to be won over. He’s planning to allow people to join the party as “supporters,” for free, and give those people some decision-making ability.
He wants to continue campaigning for a second EU referendum, and to reinvigorate the party with fresh blood – but Gina Miller doesn’t want in. The anti-Brexit firebrand who has brought legal cases against the government, demanding a vote on the Brexit process in Parliament, has ruled out a bid to lead the party. She’s booked to address the Lib Dem conference later this month, but she told BBC News that, while flattering, she isn’t interested in becoming leader.
So who is there?
I don’t think Vince knows, and I don’t think the party knows. The only thing they do know is that poor old Vince is just too much of a stale, pale, straight-white-male.