After much speculation, Lib Dem leader Vince Cable has finally come out and said he wants to step down from the leadership as soon as logically possible. The timing on this he left vague – understandably – and seems to centre around both next May’s locals and Brexit being complete and/or halted. In addition, he wants to open the leadership up to non-MPs and indeed, wants to open up the voting for the leadership to non-members. All of this seems to be done with the idea of refashioning the Lib Dems into a sort movement.
A lot of people will be upset by Cable’s ideas for very good reason: they pretty much explicitly state that the Lib Dems as they are currently constructed are finished. To most of you this will be non-news – haven’t the Lib Dems been finished for a while now? Yet there is a small bubble of Lib Dem activism that still exists in which a fantasy is maintained that the party is doing not just okay, but incredibly well. Just look at all those local by-election victories! To these people, Vince’s announcement must have seemed the ultimate betrayal, particularly as Vince himself, in emails to members and the like, will have communicated this fantasy version of events himself over the last couple of years.
But here’s the thing: Cable is completely right on this one. On pretty much everything his announcement both explicitly and tacitly lays out. The Lib Dems, as a political party capable of changing things at Westminster, really is finished. It is truly sad to say, but 2015 killed the party. There have been roads back laid out since; yet the party has either rejected these paths, deciding instead to bathe in the warm water of reassuring falsehoods, or they have proven too difficult for the party to navigate on limited resource. Either way, you have to look at the current situation, in which both main parties are in the depths of their greatest crises of the last century at least, then look at the Lib Dems dire poll ratings and think something very major needs to change.
Truth is, opening up the Lib Dems to hopefully let me those who currently feel politically homeless, both at the top and at grassroots levels, is the only possible thing that has any chance of working. It obviously might not work, I hasten to add. But what the party has tried over the past three years and a bit has failed completely anyhow, and I’m sure you all know the definition of insanity which I’ll allude to now. Trying to revive the Liberal Democrats as a parliamentary force post-2015 was a noble thing. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, it hasn’t worked. These ideas of Vince’s just might.