|Sir Vince Cable and Jo Swinson at the ‘welcome the leader’ event in Central London|
Sir Vince Cable was in great form at his first ‘outing’ as leader of the Liberal Democrat party. In Vince style he was calm, assured and completely realistic about the challenges facing the party when he launched his leadership manifesto.
He demonstrated a steadying hand which is just what the party needs post-election when it did not reap the dividends that it had hoped for from the pro-Europe campaign stance that it took during the election. There were no surprise announcements as such but Vince’s manifesto distinctly marks a move away from the party’s stand of rolling back the state’s role through austerity measures when he was part of the coalition government.
|Me, Jane Chelliah, with Sir Vince Cable|
In contrast, the leadership manifesto states, “We need properly funded and effective public services..”.
A bigger role for the state will be situated in the centrist ground. “The middle ground has been vacated”, he said, while “zealots” in British politics were positioned on the left as being “anti-business” and on the right as being “anti-Europe”. No pressure there then in a political landscape which is very much divided between right and left.
Interestingly, Vince uses the word ‘ambitious’ quite prominently in his manifesto and in doing so subtly sets out the challenge that the party faces from either side of the political spectrum. With Jeremy Corbyn riding high in the polls and the Prime Minister receiving the strong backing of the 1922 Backbench Committee to shore up her position the middle ground is being squeezed.
However, there is much to play for over Brexit. Vince spoke about how Brexit is heading for a disaster and cited the Euratom issue as evidence of Tory dislocation from the reality. He warned that this “wonderful organisation” is in danger of being completely derailed from the Brexit fall out. As expected, he spoke about the folly of pulling out of the single market and praised the EU for successful policy making especially over environmental and security issues.
Speaking alongside Vince was Jo Swinson in her new role as deputy leader of the party. Some issues of importance to her, which she articulated, were to increase the ethnic membership of the party and about making new members feel involved. As a woman of colour it was rather encouraging that the lack of diversity is receiving the recognition that it ought to have done some time ago in the party.
|Me, Jane Chelliah, with Jo Swinson|
I sometimes do wonder about the party’s ability to capture the mood of the moment. Jo was asked a question about the 2018 local elections and, somewhere in her answer, she referred to empowering local communities and people to help themselves. In the context of what is happening at Grenfell following the fire it is quite obvious that local councils have a big role to play that cannot be understated in ensuring that their citizens receive a good level of service. Witness the way the residents of the borough of Kensington & Chelsea have criticised the local authority for not doing enough and their call for better services.
Vince predicts that the party will win a good number of seats in the 2018 local election and that we can be optimistic about increasing the number of MPs taking seats at the next general election. If Brexit carries on being a disaster I reckon he will be proven right.