Sir Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, gave a guest lecture on Brexit last Tuesday 17 October before taking questions from the audience.
In an event organised by the Warwick PPE Society, Warwick Economics Society and Warwick Liberal Democrat Society, Cable discussed the underlying factors that caused the outcome of the Brexit referendum, the current issues surrounding the decision and speculated about the possible consequences of Brexit negotiations.
He also took to opportunity to praise the university for its “intellectual curiosity,” while also noting how the option of students buying houses even in a “fairly modest area like Coventry” can seem “inconceivable”.
During his lecture, he explained how the banking crisis of 2007, which he called “an economic heart attack,” was an event to which “the repercussions have been enormous” particularly after it had spread to the Eurozone. He stressed that it had caused a rift between “the people who have assets and those who don’t.”
He described the outcome of the referendum, in which 52% voted to leave the European Union, as a “surprise” and expressed how his party would argue for an “exit from Brexit”, an opportunity to stop the process if the public are not satisfied at the end of negotiations. He described Brexit as “probable but not inevitable as the sheer complexity could stop it” and speculated that it “will go ahead in an orderly fashion or in a cataclysmic crash.”
It will go ahead in an orderly fashion or in a cataclysmic crash.
Cable then painted Brexit as a “disengagement from liberalisation” as immigration played a role in voters’ decisions and warned that the “anti-globalisation movement is getting bigger.”
After his 30-minute address, the floor was opened up to questions. In response to a question about forming coalitions, he admitted he was more emotionally attached to the Labour Party due to his origins there while noting he had worked with the Conservatives in government. However, he said while his party was still open to forming coalitions, adding that they often work better, he would not form one with either party in their current states.
He then responded to a question about race and gender in relation to an article published in the New Statesman in which he was reported saying: “gender isn’t an issue any more, rightly so. Thanks to Obama, race isn’t really an issue any more – at least, we hope not” to which a student asked him: “Do you live under a rock?”
Cable responded by saying he had meant that “the situation had improved.” He put the question into personal terms, speaking of his late East African wife and his family which he raised in a “poisonous atmosphere” making reference to Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ Speech. He stated that “there is still racism around” and that it has been “aggravated by the referendum” stressing that there is “still a lot more to do.”
One student used the opportunity to ask him about tuition fees to which Cable replied, “all three major parties have made promises to students and broken them” but emphasised that the Liberal Democrats “had the grace to apologise.”
He also highlighted the importance of student grants for low-income families and expressed his desire to “get away from the loan system” before suggesting that if students don’t like the prospect of tuition fees, why not apply to do an apprenticeship. He called the current system a “mess”, adding that “no one likes the current system but no one can think of an alternative.”
No one likes the current system but no one can think of an alternative.
Lastly, Cable responded to a question about the legalisation of Cannabis to which he outlined his party’s position in favour of decriminalising the drug. Noting his own puritanical upbringing, Cable stated that it would be best to bring the trade out of the hands of the underworld and added: “As you know, there is a range of substances”. Greeted by knowing laughter from the audience, he went on to state that there “should be a regulated market” so the government can determine the quality of the product.
One of the Speaker Series coordinators for the PPE Society Namir Chowdhury said: “It was an honour to welcome the newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats to Warwick. In a year of turmoil and conflict, Sir Vince Cable offered a pragmatic insight into the economy and the political sphere. He openly talked about the failing of political parties to engage with students, including his own, which was refreshing.”
Final-year student Jack Williams added: “I think his idea of transitioning from student debt to a graduate tax is interesting. Though largely similar in the financial burden, and more should be done to alleviate this burden, the psychological relief of not feeling an increasing weight of student debt on your shoulders would be huge for students nationwide.”