It was assumed that Sir Vince Cable would be unveiled as the new Liberal Democrats leader at the party’s conference in September. However, given the conspicuous lack of challengers, and with potential rivals such as Jo Swinson, Norman Lamb and Sir Ed Davey having already ruled out standing, the party has pressed ahead with Sir Vince’s ‘coronation’.
The 74-year-old takes over the leadership role vacated by Tim Farron who stepped down last month following a disappointing General Election in which the party increased its number of MPs from nine to 12 but saw its share of the vote drop to less than eight per cent.
Sir Vince certainly has the gravitas his predecessor was lacking and, with a wealth of experience both inside and outside Parliament, he cannot be accused of being a career politician – a label that former leader Nick Clegg, for all his merits, struggled to shake.
However, the former Business Secretary takes over a party that is at a crossroads. During the election the Lib Dems pledged to give the public the final say on the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU in a further referendum, which failed to resonate with voters.
Sir Vince claims he never expected to return to Parliament and was preparing a lecture series and finishing a novel when the snap election gave him the chance to win back his Twickenham seat.
With the country about to enter a crucial phase of Brexit talks, the outcome of which will shape this country’s future for years to come, he must not only galvanise his party but convince the electorate that his party still has a purpose – it may prove to be his most difficult challenge yet.