Vince Cable: I was asked to lead a new pro-Remain party. Here’s why I said no

The 'pop-up' anti-Brexit parties have little real interest in democratic politics in the UK. Voters should beware.

Recently, we’ve seen an explosion of announcements of new parties being formed. Most are not very serious: vanity projects, spoofs or hopeless lost causes. These new parties offer politics without politicians. 

They include Jeremy Cliffe’s very-short-lived Radicals (which has a long wish list of mostly mainstream suggestions); the Veterans and People’s Party (promising a return of the death penalty); Jolyon Maugham’s ‘Spring the Party’ movement (strongly pro-Remain); Something New, an internet based party; and The Democrats, fronted by former David Davis adviser James Chapman.

Others appear to have the backing of wealthy businessmen: Richard Breen’s party Renew (Mr Breen being a successful residential property investor) and a group apparently in formation led by a former Labour donor, Simon Franks.

So far, no politician of any stature, or even without stature, has endorsed or joined them.  Money, marketing, a new name and the self-belief of the founders appear to be the common ingredients.

The absence of politicians is revealing. I was asked to consider leading one of these new parties and when I pointed out that I already led a party, with deeper roots and rather better prospects, the answer I got was ‘well, why don’t you change the brand and we will get behind you’. 

Others, I believe, have been approached – Tony Blair, Paddy Ashdown, Nick Clegg – and plausible names banded about include David Miliband and George Osborne.  None, to my knowledge, has been tempted.

The conversations, I gather, follow a predictable pattern. Flattery: the new Messiah is capable of leading the country out of its present mess if their talents can be harnessed to a new vehicle with a new name and, in some cases, the tycoon’s millions.

Then the politician asks some obvious questions about local organisation, compliance requirements and the handicaps of Britain’s first-past-the-post system and eyes glaze over. Unnecessary detail. If you politicians aren’t interested, we will do it on our own. The two epithets I commonly hear to describe the new party sponsors are naivety and arrogance.

But this phenomenon can’t be ignored. Why is this happening, and happening now? It is partly a reaction to Brexit. Several of the sponsors are angry Remainers who feel let down by the two main parties that allowed Brexit to happen.

They also have a nostalgia for the days of Blair and Cameron whom they backed and, who in turn, gave them a hearing. Now they have a Labour leader who has no need of them, who despises them, and a Tory Prime Minister who is politically weak and has no empathy for, or understanding of, business.

They look at the extreme political volatility of the Western World and the opportunities that have appeared. Trump has opened up the beguiling possibility that anyone who does deals in the property market and has limitless self-confidence and wealth can get to run a country.

There are some successful models of tycoon-led politics. Aaron Banks is one. UKIP may have achieved very little as a conventional party – one maverick MP; a small number of rather ineffectual councillors; and some exotic MEPs.

But, allied to Nigel Farage’s undoubted talent as a communicator, banks’ money and clever use of communications technology turned British politics on its head through a referendum.

Brexit was, however, also built on decades of campaigning by anti-EU zealots.  The new tycoon parties, by contrast, are impatient: they want instant results.

Moreover, their political objectives appear to be the opposite of UKIP’s.  In which case, they should get behind my party. My conversations with them suggested they have little real interest in democratic politics in the UK: the hard slog of campaigning; the vicissitudes of elections; the formidable barriers to entry for new parties.

Although they use the language of ‘centrist’ politics it is the kind of ideology-free, technocratic, authoritarian centrism that would be more at home in, say, Singapore. I think that is why the main advice they give to me is to drop the world Liberal from Liberal Democrat – or, better, both words.  Voters beware.

Vince Cable is Leader of the Liberal Democrats

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15 Responses to “Vince Cable: I was asked to lead a new pro-Remain party. Here’s why I said no”

  1. John Woods

    Anything that detracts from the fight to defeat Brexit is to be deplored. Brexit is the equivelent of the legislation to ban alcohol in the US between 1922 and 1932 (when it was repealed). Not only did the banning of alcohol enable the development of organized crime, which is still with them, it resulted in widespread abuse of the law. No one knows the unintended consequences of Brexit but they will happen and may devastate British society every bit as much as organized crime does in the US.

  2. Nicholas Horne

    Cable’s rationale is not irrational: he already leads a party which opposes brexit. [And, arguably we would never have dug ourselves into this hole if EITHER we had adopted some kind of system to dilute FTTP, OR if Clegg had never joined a coalition with Cameron, and so damaged the LDs].

  3. John Carlisle

    Until the Lib Dems fight for the NHS they so badly let down any cause they espouse will not rouse more than faint interest with a dash of cynicism.

  4. euperspectives

    Many of us completely understand your point about the dull details of everyday political life – campaigning, committees, local meetings etc. etc. Forming a political party is much harder than most imagine and requires genuine commitment and determination – and lets face it money. One thing you forgot to mention though is Emmanuel Macron. He has enough charisma, energy and self-belief to turn a one man phenomenon into a Presidential success story complete with an overwhelming majority in the legislature. He did that in under 12 months. Macron understood where modern politics is going, seized the opportunity and ran a victory lap. With our own country in such turmoil I find it baffling that not a single British politician is following a similar route. A new party, with an experienced politician leading the helm could be in 10 Downing Street potentially by the end of next year – but all our politicians appear terrified of the mythical “will of the people”. Like little rabbits frozen in the head-lights of a Kremlin backed strategy none of them are seizing the opportunity to grab the centre ground and lead the country with confidence away from Brexit and fundamentalism.

  5. Stephen DuBois

    The greatest danger to democracy in this country is that the Tories rely on the principle of divide and conquer to rule, made easier by the FPTP system. They have been in power for 60% of the time since 1922 and the disastrous results are apparent.

    Their current headlong race towards the brexit cliff edge is a result of their desperate struggle to stop their party from splitting in two and losing power. New centrist parties will split the anti-Tory vote further. In the GE(2017), if Labour had adopted progressive alliance and promoted tactical voting, there could have been an coalition government with an agenda to re-examine and re-run the fraudulent EURef2(2016) and revoke Article 50.

    People with a centrist agenda need to back a mainstream party that reflects their politics, the LibDems. It is also why ALL mainstream parties should coalesce into a united front to defeat Toryism and other right-wing parties.

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