Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable will step down in May
Vince Cable will step down as Liberal Democrat leader after local elections in May.
In an interview with the Mail today, the former business secretary reveals that he has decided to leave to pave the way for the ‘next generation’ to lead the party through Brexit.
He admits he had presided over a ‘gradual’ rather than a ‘spectacular’ recovery of the party.
But he says he will continue as an MP and devote his spare time to advancing his literary career with another political thriller.
Sir Vince, 75, is making the announcement today to coincide with the Lib Dem spring conference in York, the city he was born.
Explaining his decision, he said his wife wanted to spend more time with him, while he wanted to be able to do the things ‘I can’t do now’.
The veteran MP had previously announced he would stand down after Brexit was ‘resolved’, but conceded: ‘It now looks as if it will be a protracted process, and may never happen.’
He refused to name his preferred successor, but former coalition minister Jo Swinson, former coalition energy secretary Ed Davey and Layla Moran are believed to be keen.
Following his reforms to the party, non-MP candidates could also be in the frame, including Gina Miller, the second referendum campaigner.
‘We’ve got several very good internal candidates – you can work out who they are. The worst thing I can do is to start promoting them,’ he said.
The veteran parliamentarian refused to name his preferred successor as leader, but MPs Jo Swinson, Ed Davey and Layla Moran are all believed to be considering it
He said he would not become a ‘backseat driver’ and would let the next generation set the course for the party.
But he said that should Theresa May’s Brexit deal pass, the party would have to ‘think from scratch’ about the second referendum issue, which he conceded was a ‘last resort’.
Sir Vince said he was announcing his departure now to pave the way for a leadership contest so a 12-week leadership contest can begin in May.
‘I wanted to set it out so that there’s an orderly process of succession and the next generation can come through rather than chaotic power struggles you’re seeing inside the Tory party and Labour party so I wanted us to do better than that,’ he said.
His decision to step down will mean he is able to spend more time with his family, he said, adding: ‘My wife Rachel has been very supportive [of my time as leader] and doesn’t mind me doing it and has come round the country with me, but she would like to spend more time with me. I think she will see it as a bonus that she sees me more.’
He added: ‘I’ll be continuing as an MP. I want to get back to writing books again in my spare time.’
Sir Vince said he was planning a follow-up to his political thriller Open Arms which was published in 2017, and a non-fiction book about politicians who have changed the way we look at economics, from the US founding father Alexander Hamilton to Margaret Thatcher.
The Rt. Hon Vince Cable MP and Erin Boag competing on Strictly Come Dancing in 2010
He also plans to spend time building a parliamentary consensus on assisted dying and plans to table a private members’ bill after changing his mind on the issue, which he revealed in a piece in the Mail.
He added: ‘My other thing is to get my dancing back to a serious standard’, though he said he had no plans to take on Strictly Come Dancing again.
The decision to make his announcement now was ‘partly sentimental’ as the Lib Dem spring conference is being held in York, he said/
‘York’s where I was born and brought up. I met my [first] wife Olympia there while we were both working in a mental health hospital. I stood in York in ‘83 and ‘87.
‘So I have all kinds of sentimental and personal attachment, so it seems an obvious place to do this.’
Asked if he was proud of his time in office, he said: ‘Yes, I think we’ve achieved quite a lot. I inherited the legacy of two very difficult general elections. They were very bad.
‘We’ve rebuilt [the party] significantly. There aren’t any electoral events to test it but we’re doing well locally. We think we could do well in May. There’s recovery on that level.
‘We’ve got record levels of membership despite all the difficulties, and morale is high and people are positive and feel we’re achieving something.’
Asked if he had any regrets about his time, he said: ‘I would obviously like to have presided over a spectacular recovery [of the Lib Dems], rather than a gradual recovery, but events were beyond my control.
‘The fact that the issue of no Brexit and peoples vote is still live, that Theresa May can’t get her Brexit deal through, that we’ve managed to scrub no deal is a tribute to the kind of campaigning that our party’s done.
‘I think it is a creditable performance, and I’m very happy to let someone else take it on.’
He said he would step down in May, unless a general election or a second referendum was called, in which case he’d continue as leader.
Asked if he would miss being in charge while Brexit took its course, he said: ‘I’m not a power maniac, we operate as a team anyway. I delegate a lot of work to the team in any event.’
He said the party’s policy of holding a second referendum was still possible, but admitted that it was a ‘last resort’ that could only be triggered by the Prime Minister.
Sir Vince Cable hugs his wife Rachel Wenbin Smith after he was announced as the new leader of the Liberal Democrats in 2017. He is stepping down in May in order to spend some more time with her and plans to write another novel
‘I think it’s possible, and it’s more likely than it was before this week, but it is a last resort,’ he said.
He also conceded that the Lib Dems had not gained electorally from their position on Brexit.
‘We appear not to have benefited enormously [from our Brexit position] because it’s seen as a separate issue to party politics.
‘I think we’ll get some benefit from it but it doesn’t necessarily feed into people’s voting preferences.’
On the party’s overtures to the Independent Group of former Tory and Labour MPs, he said he had held meetings with many of them about working together in the future.
He said the Lib Dems and so-called TIGgers were both beyond the point of being subsumed by each other and would instead form an alliance.
Asked if it would be a wrench to leave as leader, he added: ‘Not particularly. No, I’m looking forward to all the things I can do which I can’t do at the moment, politically and personally.’
He revealed that the Independent Group MP Anna Soubry will attend the Lib Dem conference today and hold a joint fringe event with his deputy Jo Swinson.
Her attendance is a key signal that the grouping will work with the party in the future on Brexit policy and other issues.
Almost all of the TIG’s ‘manifesto’ commitments had been proposed by the Lib Dems, he added.
Asked whether more MPs would leave their parties, he said that Tom Watson had stemmed Labour departures for now, but said his announcement of a social democratic group within the party was ‘like applying a tourniquet to a wound’.
(Back row left to right) Independent Group (TIG) members, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Chuka Umunna and Mike Gapes, (middle row, left to right) Angela Smith, Luciana Berger and Ann Coffey, (front row, left to right) Sarah Wollaston, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Joan Ryan. Sir Vince claimed almost all of the group’s ‘manifesto’ commitments were proposed by Lib Dems
He said he was most proud of his record in government as business secretary and said there was a ‘long list’ of things he had achieved in his time there.
‘Obviously there were some uncomfortable experiences in the coalition government, and it didn’t do us great favours with the electorate in 2015, [but] I think there were a lot of real accomplishments and some of them have survived.’
He also mounted a staunch defence of the decision to increase student loans, suggesting it wasn’t the policy itself that was to blame, but the Lib Dems breaking their pledge, which was bound up with issues of trust in politicians.
He said he did not believe he had lost his Twickenham seat in 2015 solely because of his party’s time in the coalition and said the main problem was a swing to the Tories for fear of Labour and the SNP.
He said the impact of the Lib Dems’ time in coalition was ‘grossly overplayed’ at the time, adding: ‘It did damage us politically, and that damage persisted until 2017. I think it’s fading away.’
LIB DEM RUNNERS AND RIDERS
Vince Cable refused to name his preferred successor yesterday, but said he expected the position to be contested.
Liberal Democrat Deputy leader Jo Swinson
Former coalition minister Jo Swinson, former coalition energy secretary Ed Davey and possibly Layla Moran are believed to be keen.
Following his reforms to the party’s structure, non-MP candidates could also be in the frame, including Gina Miller, the second referendum campaigner.
Jo Swinson, 39, is the party’s deputy leader and has been rumoured to want the top job for some time.
Former environment secretary Ed Davey
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran
The former business minister under the Coalition government is even believed to have already assembled a campaign team, with fellow Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine expected to runas her deputy.
James McGrory, former head of press for the Remain campaign during the EU referendum, is said to be lined up as the East Dunbartonshire MP’s chief of staff.
Former environment secretary Ed Davey, 53, is also expected to run for leader in May. The MP for Kingston and Surbiton is said to have come up with a power point presentation when he announces his candidacy.
Anti-Brexit Campaigner Gina Miller
He is currently the party’s spokesman on home affairs.
Layla Moran only joined Parliament at the snap General Election in 2017, but has been touted as a future leader.
The former teacher, 36, is said to be considering running, and would be the only candidate who would be free of the taint of being in coalition with the Tories.
The MP for Oxford West and Abingdon is still deciding what to do, according to party sources.
Campaigner for a second referendum Gina Miller has already ruled out standing as Lib Dem leader.
But there are rumours that the 53-year-old, who won against the Government in court over Parliament having a meaningful vote on Brexit, will sign up as a party member.
Although it is now possible for non-MPs to stand as Lib Dem leader, she would have to win over the party.