Vince to quit? The party’s “senior sources” have been out and about stirring again…

by Stephen Tall on August 10, 2014

It’s not even six months since my co-editor Caron Lindsay urged fellow Lib Dems to make nice and drop the internal briefing against colleagues. This followed a spate of whisperings against Vince Cable and Tim Farron among others. The voices off against Vince even prompted Nick to start an internal inquiry, though, as Jonathan Calder observed here, nothing more was heard of it.

Today, though, the Mail on Sunday reports:

Allies of Vince Cable reacted furiously last night over a Liberal Democrat ‘whispering campaign’ suggesting that he is on the brink of walking out of the Coalition. The Mail on Sunday has been told by two well-placed sources within the party that the 71-year-old Business Secretary is considering leaving the Cabinet immediately after the party’s autumn conference.

One source close to leader Nick Clegg insisted: ‘He wants to step aside from the grind of office and take up an Election campaigning role in which he would woo back disaffected Lib Dems. He would be replaced either by [Chief Secretary to the Treasury] Danny Alexander or [Scottish Secretary] Alistair Carmichael with [Employment Minister] Jo Swinson taking the remaining open Cabinet slot.’ The other source said: ‘He has just had enough. The fight has gone out of him.’

However, last night Mr Cable denounced the claims as ‘nonsense’ and insisted he would stick with the Coalition right up to next year’s General Election. His spokeswoman said: ‘Vince has already been reselected to fight his Twickenham seat in May 2015 and he fully intends to serve out his term in Government as Business Secretary.’

However, Mr Clegg’s inner circle believe Mr Cable will step aside when the Deputy PM reshuffles his team in October – and might even drop plans to contest his seat. It has been billed as ‘doing a Hague’, after William Hague’s surprise move in the Tory reshuffle last month from Foreign Secretary to the lower-profile role of Commons Leader.
Last night a former Lib Dem MP added to the reports by claiming even ‘friends’ of Mr Cable were suggesting he would stand down before the Election. The ex MP said: ‘The rumour that Vince may go is definitely circulating.’ …

But Mr Cable’s allies angrily blamed the reports on a ‘whispering campaign’ designed to undermine the Business Secretary. One said: ‘There has been no mention of Vince packing it in. Whoever’s putting this around is simply out to make mischief.’ Another said: ‘He’s already been reselected to fight Twickenham and there’s no suggestion at all that he won’t.’ Mr Clegg’s office also denied any suggestion that Mr Cable would quit.

What the truth is, I’ve no idea. Certainly earlier this parliament there was internal speculation that Vince would retire from the Commons at the 2015 election, prompting a flurry of interest in the Twickenham seat among potential successors. However his re-selection seemed to have put an end to that.

I hope so. Quite apart from my admiration for Vince, Twickenham would be a much harder seat for the Lib Dems to defend without him. And as I’ve said many times there is absolutely no doubt in my mind he should revive his role as the party’s economic spokesman next May: he is by a long, long way the most persuasive and convincing advocate the party has of the economic policies it’s pursued in Coalition.

Either way, the public speculation of “senior sources” helps no-one. If they don’t want to take a holiday in August I’m sure there would be many local parties eager to give then something more useful to do with their excess energy than mouth off to journalists.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.