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.