I’ve often joked that when last year Vince Cable talked about standing down as party leader once Brexit is resolved, that would mean he stays as leader until at least 2047.
In practice, what he meant was stepping down when Brexit had got to either a next stage or a pause – and so there was a potential political breathing space in which the party could hold a leadership contest.
Which is why he is emailing party members this evening to say:
I indicated last year that once the Brexit story had moved on, and we had fought this year’s crucial local elections in 9,000 seats across England, it would be time for me to make way for a new generation. I set considerable store by having an orderly, business-like, succession unlike the power struggles in the other parties.
So I wanted you, our members, to know that, assuming Parliament does not collapse into an early General Election, I will ask the party to begin a leadership contest in May…
And long after my period as your Leader ceases, I will continue to work with you and my successor to make sure the Liberal Democrats are at the centre of Britain’s rapidly changing politics. By building a movement of voters who share our values, we can help rescue the country from a profound political crisis and give hope of a better future.
Thank you for all your support.
Liberal Democrat Party President Sal Brinton said:
Having a party leadership election, with the resulting vital publicity for the party, kick-off in May would be rather handy to help raise the party’s profile if those European Parliament elections happen after all. Especially as, on the Remain side, they are likely to see quite the battle between different Remain parties for the highest profile and most plausible role as the catalyst of the Remain cause.
Vince Cable is hugely respected across politics and his leadership of the Liberal Democrats since 2017 has seen the party lead the fight against Brexit, with quarter of a million people backing the campaign.
It has been a particular pleasure to march alongside him and our party members a number of times in our fight to get a People’s Vote. During his time as Leader, he has led the way in increasing public support for a final say on the Brexit deal and constantly been reminding people that our country’s future is brighter as part of the European Union.
Vince’s experience serving as Business Secretary in government, his distinguished expertise on the economy, and continuing dedication as Member of Parliament for Twickenham will all mean he continues to play a massive part in the party’s future and our country. I thank him from the bottom of my heart.
Even if those elections don’t happen, the timing of the leadership contest will serve the party well – and that’s something we should be grateful for. Not many party leaders give that much weight to that factor when they depart. It shows Vince’s level of commitment to the party that he has.
As for who might succeed him, this evening Vince Cable said:
We’ve got several very good internal candidates – you can work out who they are. The worst thing I can do is to start promoting them.
The likely trio of internal candidates are Ed Davey, Layla Moran and Jo Swinson.
It’s worth noting that the party reform proposals being decided on this Saturday at the Lib Dem conference in York would still mean that any candidate for party leader has to both be a party member and get nominated by Liberal Democrat MPs and Liberal Democrat members. Something to bear in mind if there’s another bout of Gina Miller-type speculation.
Vince Cable has said he will continue as an MP.
UPDATE: Stephen Tall and I discuss Vince Cable’s record as party leader in our podcast.
Note: ‘all member emails’ only go, of course, to those members for whom the party has a working, opted-in email address and whose spam filters don’t eat it. If you are a member and don’t get the email, or if you know a member who doesn’t receive it, then this little troubleshooting guide may help.