A good standard answer to ‘how far ahead should we be planning?’ is ‘further ahead than we are’. But good as it is as a default answer, it is not always right.
Even for a firm supporter of a long-term party strategy such as myself (cough, core votes, cough), it would be foolish not to acknowledge the huge uncertainty over even the next six months. Will there be another general election? Will Theresa May still be Conservative leader? Will the SNP still be pursuing a second independence referendum? How will the Brexit talks be going? The list of major questions, all of which are hard to answer with certainty* goes on.
That context is particularly relevant to the Liberal Democrat leadership contest. Should the party be looking for a new leader who might be in place for a decade or more or should we be concentrating on more short-term considerations (especially as we’re still only one bad result away from Parliamentary extinction)?
Here’s Vince Cable’s take on that:
My position is that the party and the country have a massive challenge ahead: the possibility of an unwanted, unpopular, costly election within months and the Brexit process over a couple of years.
We do not have the luxury of planning many years ahead – and 2022 is a very long time ahead in the current fragile state of British politics. I have the experience and national reputation to help us meet the massive challenges ahead.
I will meet the longer term questions when we get there and go on as long as I am fit and able. I could seek to emulate Gladstone (winning an election and becoming Prime Minister at 82) or Churchill or Reagan or whoever.
Or if I suffer a fatality on my bike or a skiing accident or fall off a mountain, among my more dangerous activities, or suffer some other misfortune, there are other people admirably qualified to take over.
One of those people, of course, in the minds of many members is Jo Swinson, the party’s new Deputy Leader. Of her Vince Cable says:
There is absolutely no basis to the rumour that I have an agreement with Jo Swinson and that I plan to stand aside for her in a couple of years. I have absolutely no plan to stand on that interim basis.
The reference to Ronald Reagan, by the way, reminds me of one of the US Republican President’s best lines:
* Strictly speaking, they are easy to answer with certainty if you don’t mind taking pot luck on whether or not you’re right.