Vince Cable on Europe, tuition fees and the future for the Lib Dems

So headlines The Guardian on an interview with Vince Cable which contains two significant policy sections, after first a nod towards Vince’s health:

Cable is … a young 74. I meet him at Waterloo station – under the clock as tradition dictates – and he easily outpaces me in the dash for the 3.20pm to Twickenham.

The first of the significant policy sections is on Europe, confirming Vince Cable’s support for referendum to be held on the terms of Brexit:

Cable stands by his suggestion that we may never leave the EU. “The Brexit process is going to get very messy. I meet a lot of senior civil servants and they’re trying to be loyal, but their eyebrows rise. They just can’t see how it can be done. The government haven’t taken on board the complexity of unwinding 40 years of regulatory activity.” He says the row over Euratom is a taste of the chaos to come. “The Brexiteers are only just beginning to understand the enormous can of worms they have opened up.”…

The outgoing Lib Dem leader Tim Farron thought the promise of a second referendum if Brexit turned sour was his party’s trump card, but it flopped at the election. Cable, though, believes it might yet prove a vote-winner. “The potential is enormous. A lot of people who supported Labour [in June] didn’t appreciate exactly where Corbyn is coming from on Europe, and they’re going to get very disillusioned when they do realise it. The Pied Piper of Hamelin led them on a merry route and they’re currently happy enough, but when they realise he’s just as committed to a hard Brexit as Theresa May, they will react very badly.”

The second is on tuition fees, an issue which actually came after most of the collapse in the Lib Dem poll ratings in 2010-15 but which subsequently is seen by many voters as symbolising it. Vince Cable’s solution? To look at a policy for everyone, not just those who go to university – something which echoes his long-standing support for further education:

The tuition fees debacle, when the Lib Dems first promised to abolish them but then ended up in government agreeing to them being trebled, still dogs the party. Cable is determined to try to lay it to rest. He thinks Corbyn’s pledge to abolish fees and write off student debt is fantasy economics, but blames the Tories for ending maintenance grants and allowing interest rates on loans to spiral. “I defend what we did,” he says, “but it’s clear the current system is difficult to justify in its present form.”

His big idea is to introduce “learning accounts” – grants for everyone over the age of 18, regardless of whether or not they go to university, to cash in as part payment on a degree or some other form of training, or to be reserved for study in later life. Cable thinks it would be democratic, economically manageable, and would both protect the income of universities and keep down student debt. “We need something bold like that,” he says. By “we” he means the country, but there is no doubt his damaged party also needs it to start to win back the trust of younger voters.

Getting this right will be crucial to the success of Vince Cable’s leadership of the Liberal Democrats if he does indeed become the party’s next leader.

3 responses to “Vince Cable on Europe, tuition fees and the future for the Lib Dems”

  1. The learning account doesn’t exactly sound like a new idea, its just more formalized version of the current system. As it stands I am not eligible for any of the “investors in people” training schemes because they can’t get funding for training people who have degrees.

  2. Tim Farron’s failure to garner significant support from proposing a second referendum was, in my view, due to his public “acceptance” of the referendum result. If Vince Cable is to be more successful, I hope he will take what follows on board.

    Firstly, as I have said before elsewhere, the referendum should never have been held without a massive, preparatory exercise setting out, as objectively as humanly possible, just what social and economic costs would be incurred by each of the various forms of Brexit, and what administrative problems would have to be overcome in each case, and placing the results in the public domain for at least 12 months debate before a single vote was cast. This was never done of course, and not only the electorate but also, shamefully, the government were almost totally ignorant of all facts vitally necessary for voters to be able to come to an intelligent and considered decision.

    With every week that now passes, more relevant facts will emerge and accumulate. These are likely to make many realise for the first time both what a monstrous task any Brexit must entail, and also what little practical benefit is ever likely to flow from it to make the effort worthwhile. For example, what madness has come over the nation for us (1) to deliberately jettison the European Medicines Agency, and give such a valuable asset completely free to one of our closest competitors; (2) to risk a similar outcome for the City of London, one of the prime sources of the UK’s tax revenues; and (3) to throw away all the benefits of being a member of Euratom, and to have to seek some complex alternative?

    Second, the referendum was advisory and not mandatory. David Cameron may have opted to make the result politically binding on his own party, but he couldn’t bind the Lib-Dems or anyone else, least of all a subsequent parliament.

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