Sir John Vincent Cable is the new leader of the Liberal Democrat party after being elected unopposed, following the resignation of Tim Farron. Mr Cable was at the University of Warwick on Tuesday to talk about his views on the Brexit negotiations, in an event hosted by the Warwick Liberal Democrats, PPE society and Economics society. The Boar was able to interview Mr Cable after the event and discuss his views on issues such as the current state of British politics, the future of the Lib Dems, whether he saw the previous coalition government as a success, and how the mental health epidemic facing students will be dealt with.
He thinks the Brexit vote was a mistake, and wants an “exit from Brexit”.
The Member of Parliament for Twickenham has been clear from the start that he thinks the Brexit vote was a mistake and that he wants an “exit from Brexit”, arguing that it is still possible Britain could stay in the European Union. When asked about the ‘left-behind voters’ – those who are angry with their living standards and are struggling to survive, Mr Cable argued that he thinks “they were wrong [to direct their anger at the EU] but it was understandable. Although the ‘left behind vote’ was an important one, it was a minority within the Brexit vote. We’ve got to address their problems, like I say, it was understandable and we’ve now got to engage with the things they were frustrated about; poor wages, poor services etc.”
Whilst the former business secretary did not make clear how he planned on addressing this demographic’s concerns, he argued that Brexit would make their situation worse as the government would be weaker financially, so would not be able to fund the essential services. It is clear that the problems faced by the ‘left behind voters’ should be genuine concerns of the government, and it is still to be seen whether Brexit can fix their problems, or whether they will suffer more in a post-Brexit Britain.
Mr Cable argued that the Lib Dems were unsuccessful under Tim Farron’s leadership.
On his party, Mr Cable argued that they were making progress as they have been “successful in boosting membership.” The Lib Dems increased their member count from 78,000 at the end of 2016, to around 102,000 members as of May 2017. The MP saw this as evidence of the party heading in the right direction, but argued that they were unsuccessful under Tim Farron’s leadership as they failed to increase their vote share, with Mr Cable aiming “to radically improve it”. The main aim of his leadership is to improve the political fortune of the Lib Dems. “We’ve had two very bad general elections, we don’t need to rehearse all the reasons for it,” said Mr Cable. “I think there is now an opportunity, as the main two English parties have swung to the extremes. I see my role as offering a distinct alternative which is moderate, with good values, and which identifies us as campaigning against inequality.”
The Lib Dems had enjoyed large support from students in the lead up to the 2010 General Election, but many now feel let down by the party and have flocked to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. I asked Mr Cable about his party’s betrayal of students during the coalition, when the Lib Dems voted to increase tuition fees despite campaigning to abolish them. He argued that abolishing them was not possible, and changing the current system into a ‘graduate tax’ would be the best system.“One of the reasons I’m looking to convert the loan scheme into much more of a graduate system is to avoid the anxieties around debt.”
We caused quite a lot of damage and eventually I was holed up in a police station.
Mr Cable, who attended the University of Glasgow and Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, asserted that there is “a certain amount of snobbery– people feel that they have to go to university and they look down on vocational education. We should look at it as an alternative route, and if young people realise they have [vocational education] as an option, then those who are really worried about debt could pursue it.”
Finally, I asked the party leader about the naughtiest thing he had done as a student, to which he replied: “Well, I did quite a lot of naughty things, unlike Theresa May. I wrote a personal biography called Free Radical in which I described an episode in my youth where I discovered an air rifle in the wardrobe and started playing Second World War snipers with my friend, aiming the air rifles at the windows of all our neighbours. We caused quite a lot of damage and eventually I was holed up in a police station and given a bit of a rollicking. So I think that was one of several escapades in my teens.”