Political

The new importance of Vince Cable after he stands down as party leader

No surprise that most of the focus on the Liberal Democrat leadership contest is on who will win and what that may mean for the party.

But there will be another outcome too: the release of Vince Cable to a new role. With the party having a new economics spokesperson (and one who Vince Cable is very supportive of), a simple return to his pre-2010 role as the key economics voice in the party is not looking quite so certain.

Which is why in Cable’s farewell interview with The Observer this part is particularly significant:

Cable is keen that his replacement go much further in plotting a Remain alliance with like-minded parties – suggesting that it could be the catalyst for a major realignment of British politics. And while he is heading to the backbenches, he is ready and willing to help with the heavy lifting that will be needed.

“People might not see me as a good figurehead, but I’m certainly willing to be part of it,” he says…

“I’m genuinely interested in these attempts to get cross-party working, getting people working with us, unite for Remain,” he says. “I think there is a lot more to be done in that space. If I can help on that, I will.

That sounds like the words of someone who is going to be a regular and vocal participant in national political debate, rather than a backbencher tending his constituency and offering occasional words of private advice to the new leader.

As the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election poll illustrates, situations in which the Lib Dems look comfortably ahead could look very different if a new Conservative leader manages to collapse the Brexit Party’s support behind a refreshed Hard Brexit Conservative Party or if a Leave electoral pact is formed.

Given that risk, it is likely no coincidence that Vince Cable used the phrase “unite for Remain”, a close echo of the Unite for Remain movement.

The first preference for Liberal Democrats is very much that Remainers unite behind the Lib Dems. But it’s wise to keep our options open: a formal Boris Johnson – Nigel Farage electoral pact in an autumn Brexit election may require rather more from the Remain side than different Remain parties each claiming to be the Remain choice.

That’s why the Unite for Remain idea is one the Liberal Democrats should be engaging with rather than ignoring. We may yet need it to have done the necessary preparatory work.

UPDATE: As it turned out, Vince Cable stayed in the Lib Dem Shadow Cabinet rather than becoming a backbencher.

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