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NIALL PATERSON: The Lib Dem leadership race wasn’t exactly a brutal, bloody battle royal, Sir Vince Cable was the first, last and in fact only man standing. He was crowned party leader earlier this week and now faces the challenge of making the Lib Dems relevant again in the new age of two party politics. Sir Vince joins me now in the studio, a very good morning to you and congratulations on taking the job.
SIR VINCE CABLE: Thank you.
NP: I wonder if I can start by being terribly ungallant. You are 74 years of age, it’s an age at which most people are content to put their feet up, maybe take the mick out of some impoverished 20 something’s. You instead are leader of the Liberal Democrats, how long can we expect you to last?
SIR VINCE CABLE: I will be there as long as I need to and I’m there for this parliament. We don’t know when the next election will be, it could be in the autumn, it could be next year, it could be three years’ time, it could be five years’ time and I made it very clear to my colleagues I’m there for the duration and I don’t see a problem with it actually. Age shouldn’t be an issue if you have got the motivation and the energy and the stamina and you keep fit, which is what I do.
NP: Well you often talk of Gladstone as being something of an inspiration to you so should we expect to see you fighting elections when you are in your mid-80s?
SIR VINCE CABLE: It’s unlikely but I am simply making the point that, well, whether it’s him or Churchill in the past and of course a lot of current leaders, I wouldn’t necessary regard Jeremy Corbyn and Trump as my role models but they’re my generation and if you have got the right approach and, as I say, if you’ve got the energy and the stamina, you can do it and as I say, I got to some effort to keep fit.
NP: So what then in your mind is the point of the Liberal Democrats now?
SIR VINCE CABLE: Well the point is massive really. There’s an enormous gulf in British politics at the moment, the whole of the so-called centre ground has just been vacated and you have got these extreme ideologues in the Tory party, extreme Brexit and in a very harsh way and on the other hand you’ve got the hard left taking over the Labour party. In the last few days you can see them moving even against middle of the road Brownite type Labour people like Tom Watson, so a vast area in between and if we are doing our job we should be appealing to the millions of British people who want moderate common sense middle of the road politics, so that’s our role. Very specifically, economic competence, where has it gone? It’s no longer valued as it was until recently to have leaders who cared about good economic performance which is exactly what funds the health service and the schools and that’s my background. I want to maximise the opportunities for being in that political space.
NP: We just had an opportunity to test the attraction of that political space, the general election that’s just gone, 12 MPs in total are Liberal Democrats so it doesn’t look as if many people are up for moving to the centre ground, at least not the centre ground as identified by yourself.
SIR VINCE CABLE: The last election was good in some ways, bad in others. We have significantly increased our number of MPs, they are more diverse, we lost another few seats by a handful of votes but you are quite right, in terms of the basic vote share we didn’t do as well as we should have done. That opportunity is still there, I wasn’t in parliament when all of this happened, I was doing other things, I’ve now come back fresh, refreshed and I really think that political opportunity is massive. I think the reason why we perhaps didn’t do as well as we should have done is that the people in a way had parked the issue of Brexit, they had voted on it and were just waiting to see what had happened but I think in the next year or so when the consequences become apparent, politics will harden and they will recognise that the Lib Dems are the only people actually voting against this very extreme form of hard Brexit which I being pursued both by the Conservative government and the Labour opposition.
NP: You are essentially looking for an evolution in the public’s views of Brexit.
SIR VINCE CABLE: I think that’s a fair way of putting it.
NP: But similar to your own, not long ago you pooh-poohed at the Lib Dem conference the idea of a second referendum. You are not firmly of the opinion that that question needs to be put again to the British public at the end of the Brexit process.
SIR VINCE CABLE: What I did pooh-pooh was the idea of just rerunning the last one. No, it happened, you don’t disrespect the result but we are now waiting to see what the consequences are. It could all turn out wonderfully well, it’s possible, I do think it’s possible but I think it’s unlikely, I think we’ll get some very damaging economic consequences and I think public opinion will shift. The sheer complexity and the horrors of this are just becoming apparent and if that happens people will be looking for what I can an exit from Brexit and in that context a second referendum becomes relevant.
NP: But provide the justification for putting a different question to the British public, it would be a different question but with the two same possible outcomes, leaving the European Union or remaining within the European Union. A brief look at social media this morning after we said you were coming on the programme, ask Vince why on earth he wants to subvert democracy once again.
SIR VINCE CABLE: Well I don’t want to subvert democracy but that was a snapshot of public opinion when that happened, in very different circumstances. A lot of young people are coming through, 16 to 18 year olds, a lot of 18 year olds have just come through who haven’t had a vote and the context … I don't think many of the people who voted to leave, I’m sure many of the thought it through but some certainly didn’t vote to be poorer and if it becomes clear that that is the consequence …
NP: But you haven’t yet convinced the British public that a second referendum, a second question, is necessary. You haven’t convinced them that given both of the outcomes are exactly the same as when we voted back in 2016, that is actually on the deal itself. How do you get to that stage? Are you just waiting for the negotiations between the UK and the EU to collapse?
SIR VINCE CABLE: No, absolutely not and I think the way you put it which is about what we do in the waiting period is absolutely the right way. At the moment there is no appetite for this, we’re not yet at the end of the process. What I think there is an appetite for is for keeping those elements of the European Union which are good for Britain and work for us which are the single market, which are the customs union, the common research and I want to work with people in other parties to make sure those are safeguarded and they are not jettisoned. In the immediate future that is the objective but at the end of the process there is a separate issue which is are we happy with the outcome, do we want to jump over the cliff and hope for the best or do we want to go back to European Union and that will be an issue then in maybe two years’ time.
NP: When we spoke most recently about this I put the point to you that actually if you want to stop Brexit or you want to change Brexit then actually the people you need to be talking to as much as the British public are the parliamentary Labour party. Have you been doing so?
SIR VINCE CABLE: Yes and Conservatives too. There are a lot of …
NP: At what level?
SIR VINCE CABLE: Members of Parliament, my colleagues, people I’ve been….
NP: Shadow Cabinet?
SIR VINCE CABLE: I did yes, members of the Shadow Cabinet and Conservatives, mainly backbenchers because I’ve only just come back into Parliament. I think a lot of them are very, very unhappy. They are not quite sure what to do about it, I think 50 Labour MPs rebelled a couple of weeks ago and it was quite brave of them but I think they are going to have to stick at that and a lot more are in the same position. They are being intimidated, they are being told to toe the line or else. A lot of Conservatives and perhaps even more the business people who are deeply, deeply unhappy and I suspect before long a lot of the Conservatives who see this ending in disaster are going to resurface and I want to talk to them. It’s not a narrow party issue this, there is a very broad movement now beginning to coalesce in the centre of British politics.
NP: Moving away from Brexit just a moment, where is the radicalism that always existed within the Liberal Democrats, at times perhaps on the fringes? It seems that the two things that being in government have robbed the Liberal Democrats of are parliamentary representation and bold forward thinking, blue sky policy.
SIR VINCE CABLE: I did a bit of blue sky thinking in the press this morning, I was arguing that we’ve got to address this whole issue about this sense of unfairness between generations, younger people whose opportunities are much less than their parents.
NP: You want to increase Capital Gains to the same level as …
SIR VINCE CABLE: I put forward a whole series of possible ideas of which that is one, about how you deal with the accumulation of wealth in the older generation, my generation, and how you use some of that to finance improved education for younger people at school and post-school and I was just setting out some broad proposals I want the party to look at. It is blue sky thinking, it is radical, to use your word and I want our party to be exactly that, not just a conservative backward looking party. We’ve had experience of government and that is an asset but I also want us to be radical because the country is in a mess and we need bold ways out of it.
NP: And just to be clear, this coronation of Sir Vince as leader of the Liberal Democrats, there wasn’t a deal done with Jo Swinson, she’s not waiting in the wings for an opportunity?
SIR VINCE CABLE: No, no, no. She had her own very good reasons for not wanting to stand but it is a very good team, it is a very good team.
NP: Sir Vince, many thanks for being with us.