Vince Cable interview: ‘People weren’t ready for our Brexit message’

Sir Vince Cable speaks to The Yorkshire Post at Northern College
Sir Vince Cable speaks to The Yorkshire Post at Northern College
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HE HAS just made his Commons comeback and is on track to become the next leader of the Liberal Democrats and all at the age of 74.

After a period where party leaders appeared to be getting ever-younger, Sir Vince Cable has returned to frontline politics at a time when the Prime Minister is approaching 61 and the leader of the opposition has just celebrated his 68th birthday.

Sir Vince smiles when the subject of age in politics is raised.

“If [Haltemprice and Howden MP] David Davis becomes the leader of the Tory party as some people think the three potential leaders of the parties will all be in their seventies at the next general election.

“I think it is a coincidence but also I think some of the shine has gone off this youthful exuberance stuff. It didn’t help us very much, people feel it was associated with an era of disillusionment and there is maybe now more respect for people who have survived and learned from experience. There is something of that.”

The former business secretary was among the 49 Lib Dem MPs who lost their seats at the 2015 General Election.

Sir Vince claims he never expected to return to Parliament and was preparing a lecture series and finishing a novel, to be published in September, when the snap election gave him the chance to win back his Twickenham seat.

He admits to “mixed feelings” about the prospect of coming back but also a sense of “unfinished business” given the abrupt manner of his Commons exit two years earlier.

“There was also a real sense of national crisis. If you feel you’re in politics to do things and make a difference I think under the present situation you don’t want to feel like you are walking away. I do feel I can contribute something.”

He continues: “I think we need people, and I maybe speaking a little bit vainly here, who have got some experience, who can contribute to this national debate and apply a bit of common sense because I think we are in great danger of the whole political world becoming totally polarised in a very extreme way.

“I think it needs a voice of moderation, experience, idealism, you’ve got to combine those three things and I think I can do that.”

Sir Vince returns at a crossroads not just for the country as the Brexit talks get underway but for his party after an election which the Lib Dems approached with high hopes but only delivered a modest increase in seats overall and the loss of both its Yorkshire MPs, Nick Clegg and Greg Mulholland.

Tim Farron’s subsequent decision to stand down has triggered a leadership contest where he is currently the only candidate.

Sir Vince is withering over the direction the party has taken in recent years.

“We’ve been going backwards for three years, or since the Coalition,” he says.

“That’s why I put my hat in the ring for the leadership because I think although our vote nationally is very depressed there is scope for a party to come through the middle.

“We made a little bit of progress in parliamentary seats but that was in London and Scotland.

“We certainly haven’t in this part of the country and we lost Nick Clegg and Greg Mulholland.”

He describes the reasons for the Lib Dems failure to make more progress as “complex” but believes there is still a legacy of unpopularity connected to decisions made by the Coalition government in which he served.

“I think in this particular election people weren’t ready for this message about Brexit.

“I think the inclination was to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt whereas our stuff about the public should have a choice at the end of all this, whether they want to accept it or go back to the European Union, that message was a bit premature.

“It didn’t work, people didn’t buy it and so we did go backwards.”

Sir Vince says the Lib Dems also suffered from the surprising performance of Labour.

“Some of us find it very difficult to understand, a lot of young people who were quite angry about Brexit, they feel their future has been stolen from them, got behind him even though he is a Brexiteer.

“Corbyn was very good at harnessing this sense of hope because a lot of people are angry and wanting something positive and he gave them that.

“I think the contradictions will become painfully apparent over the next year when people see that the Labour Party are pushing for a hard Brexit and when people look at their numbers and see two plus two doesn’t equal seven.”

Sir Vince was speaking to The Yorkshire Post after addressing a conference on mental health at Northern College, near Barnsley.

He told the audience how, at the age of 10, he saw his mother suffer a severe bout of post-natal depression which saw her admitted to hospital.

It was one of the experiences as a child growing up in York that helped form his political values.

“My father was very right wing, he would be regarded as way to the right of Ukip these days.

“It was partly the time, he believed passionately in the Empire and white people should rule the world, this kind of thing.

“I started arguing with him when I was a teenager and that was probably when I first discovered I wanted to debate politically.

“My father in many ways was a wonderful man, very conscientious, hard-working, saving, pillar of the local community but he had a lot of prejudices.

“It came to a head when I married someone of Indian origin when I was in my early twenties, that whole background is where you learn what your real values are and how to defend them.

“It was around that episode with my mother and my father and his attitude to race, they were quite important formative experiences.”