Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Sir Vince Cable Leader Lib Dems


SOPHY RIDGE: Now the biggest winners at the local elections were the Liberal Democrats and we can talk now to the man of the moment, Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable, who joins us now from the New Forest. Thank you for being on the programme. Why do you think so many people voted for the Lib Dems this time round?

VINCE CABLE: Well I think a mixture of reasons, I think positive reasons. We are very committed to local government, we do it well. We campaigned intensively over a period of months, that was all part of it. It was disillusionment with the government, it was amongst people who felt very strongly about remaining in the European Union, they got behind us too. So it was a mixture of reasons. We did very well in some of the parts of the south of England that are very committed to remain but we also did very well in Somerset and Devon where they have a different view and as you’ve just heard, we had big swings in places like Sunderland and Barnsley so it was quite a deep process and it showed our party is now fully recovered and a very strong force in British politics.

SR: It’s interesting, as you say, that the Lib Dems appeared to do well in places where there were strong remain votes but also actually in places where the majority of people voted to leave the EU. I just wondered if you think that means some of the vote at least was more of a protest vote, really just a chance to give the two main parties a kicking?

VINCE CABLE: Well there is an element of that. I’m perfectly realistic that that was one of the factors at play but if you take a place like Sunderland which was very heavily leave, it didn’t just come out of a protest vote, we’ve worked there for years. We have got a team of dedicated people who have gradually won their way onto the council, have done good work there and have built on it and so yes, there was an element of a protest vote but it was more than that, it was very much a positive vote for Liberal Democrat candidates and that is going to carry forward I think into the European elections that we’ll have in a couple of weeks’ time.

SR: Well let’s talk about the European elections shall we because you are going to have a bit more competition there aren’t you for the chance to give the two parties a kicking. The Brexit Party are going to be standing, you heard Nigel Farage earlier in the programme, also Change UK. What would be a good result for the Lib Dems?

VINCE CABLE: Well a good result would be a significant improvement which is what we had last time which was not a very good outcome.

SR: You’ve got to be hoping for more than that.

VINCE CABLE: Yes, well, indeed. One of the problems with these European elections is, as you implied, the remain vote is fragmented between three remain parties, I think that’s unfortunate. We would have preferred to have worked together but that’s not happened so I think what is important for us is that the remain voters in the country, the people who are committed to remaining in the European Union, who want to press ahead with a people’s vote, that those people get behind us and we send a very strong message not just to the Conservative and Labour party but also to Nigel Farage, that he is up against a very formidable adversary here.

SR: It’s interesting to hear you say that you feel it’s unfortunate that the remain parties weren’t working closer together. Change UK were pretty clear that they didn’t want to work too closely with the Lib Dems perhaps thinking that you would tarnish their image. I just wonder if they’ve had a change of heart after the local election results, has anyone been calling you up from Change UK?

VINCE CABLE: Well it’s a bit late now, the nominations have been submitted. If that was the calculation then it was clearly wrong because we are a very positive force but there is no point I think in just going over who said what to whom and why we got where we are, we are now there on the ballot paper with the other remain parties but our fire is going to be directed at Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party and the terrible muddle and panic that we are now getting from the Conservative and Labour parties, that’s the opposition. We’re not aiming fire at people who are in the same position as we are.

SR: There has been a bit of fire aimed at you though. Chris Leslie for example, from Change UK, has said previously that the Lib Dems have fallen below critical mass, that you have baggage, a trust issue. Heidi Allen has said that her party is the natural home of the remain alliance. Do you think they have perhaps underestimated how difficult it is to be one of the smaller parties in UK politics?

VINCE CABLE: Well those remarks are obviously terribly wide of the mark but I like the people concerned, I don’t want to get into an unnecessary spat with them. I think when these elections are over we are going to have to work together and grow up and work in adult politics, I think that’s what the public expect us to do rather than exchanging snide comments. We have clearly done extremely well in these elections, we’re back as a major force. I think that will carry over into the European elections and then we’ll work with other people who share our views on Europe and our values more generally and really trying to change British politics in a fundamental way because I’m afraid the Tory party and the Labour party have now become so discredited people are looking for some genuine alternative and we will be at the core of that.

SR: It’s interesting isn’t it because it feels as if the last general election was almost dominated by two party politics, Labour and the Conservative party got more than 80% of the vote between them. Do you think what we are starting to see now is the beginning of a splintering of that dominance?

VINCE CABLE: Well I think in retrospect it is very clear that 2017 was an anomaly, it was unusual, it was conducted in the aftermath of the referendum. It created I think a false sense that the two party system was being reconstructed. It has been gradually dissolving over the last couple of decades or so and I think it is now very, very clear that British politics is now going to have organisation be remade. I mean it is clearly failing in all kinds of ways, not just the mess around the referendum but the fact that as a country we are just not getting to grips with really big challenges like housing and how we deal with social care and rising crime and the future of education and we need parties that have a positive vision, can get themselves organised and can replace the rather moribund two party system that we have at the moment.

SR: I just want to ask you, just to close, we often ask people to suggest questions on social media for our guests and I couldn’t resist asking you this one from Barry H. H. on Twitter. He says, “Ask Vince if he is gutted he is jacking it in now that the Lib Dems did quite well in the locals.” Are you a little bit gutted?

VINCE CABLE: No, my plans haven’t changed. I am expecting that my party will have a new leader before the summer break. I’ve always intended that we should have an orderly succession, I’m very happy to pass on the baton but I will be leading the party through the European elections, that’s very clear, and if the government fails a no confidence motion in the next few weeks, as could well happen, and we have a general election, then I will be leading our party into that too.

SR: Okay, Sir Vince Cable, thank you very much for being on the programme today.

VINCE CABLE: Thank you.