Vince Cable became the new Liberal Democrat Leader on Thursday 20th July. The 74 year old former Secretary of State is greatly respected within the party, and hopes to be the man to start a successful rebuild after the Lib Dems’ meteoric fall from grace since 2010. Wessex Scene interviewed the new leader just before his rally in Southampton at the start of his UK Tour.
What policies would you have to offer young people?
Starting from the top, I think the whole Brexit issue will affect young people for the rest of their lives. It’s one of these moments in history when a country changes direction. It will have far-flung consequences which in my view are almost entirely negative. It will narrow the horizons of the country, making it more difficult to travel freely, to do collective things, and that will damage young people which is why the majority of them voted to remain.
We are the only Remain party, whereas Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May are working together on this extreme form of Brexit. We’re opposing that.
That’s the first issue, the second is that out of the major parties we have the longest and deepest commitment to environmental issues, in fact on climate change we have quite a lot of common ground with the Green Party – I think that matters to young people.
Many young people didn’t have a vote on Brexit. With that in mind, would you reduce the voting age?
Absolutely, yes. My party has long supported the idea of votes at 16. It’s worked in Scotland very well, there’s a lot of political engagement and it almost certainly had a lot of impact on the referendum. Despite all the complaints from older people, young people have engaged with politics in a very mature, constructive way.
It seems to me there is absolutely no good reason whatever why voting shouldn’t be at 16.
Your plans to call for a second referendum following Brexit have been criticised by many, arguing that you are not respecting a democratic result. How do you respond to that?
If it was simply a re-run of the last one, then that would be correct. I said so at the time, I opposed the idea of rushing into a second referendum for exactly that reason. But what we’re talking about is something completely different. What we’re saying is that at the end of the process, when we know what’s happening, when we know if the government have achieved a deal, when we know whether it’s a good deal or a bad deal or no deal – at that point, the public should be allowed to pass a judgement on it.
We keep open the option of staying in the European Union, or going back into it, what I call ‘exit from Brexit’. People have got to have that option.
What would be your industrial strategy to push the economy forward?
When I was in the coalition government, I was Secretary of State for 5 years. I introduced the industrial strategy and I ran it. We did very very good work on the aerospace industry, pharmaceuticals and creative industries. What’s happening now is the government’s continued it, but I sense there isn’t the same degree of commitment that we had. I put a lot of money in new centres of innovation which are called catapults, and new materials. So we had an industrial strategy, backing for new technologies and innovation.
I think the other big thing is training, because Britain’s lagging very badly behind countries like Germany in terms of vocational education and training. It’s going to be made much worse by Brexit by being not able to bring people in from the European Union. What I did was bring about a revival of apprenticeships, both in volume and quality but we still have a long long way to go to revive the status of vocational training through colleges.
With Labour firmly moving to the left, and the Conservatives to the right, do you see a space for the Lib Dems to push forward in the centre ground of British politics?
Yes I do, I think we will make a breakthrough for precisely that reason. British politics is becoming more polarised. People want a moderate common sense party of the middle ground. But it isn’t just that, I mean I do see myself as a radical politician, I do want to address the inequalities of wealth, I do want to address the gaping inequalities in terms of generations – young people simply don’t have the same chances, the same quality of housing that my generation had.
I do want to see radical change, I do want to say big reform to the political system where we don’t have fair representation in Parliament, the Lords is appointed, the funding system borders on the corrupt. We do need radical reform.
My basic pitch though, is that we are a moderate middle-of-the-road party and we want to get the best of a private enterprise system, combine it with good strong social services and effective government.
Would addressing these systemic failures mean a new voting system? Perhaps Proportional Representation?
We’ve always been the party of Proportional Representation. We did get the AV Referendum in 2010, we didn’t win it but we did get it. We’d like a system like they have in the Scottish Parliament or in Germany, where you have a combination of constituencies and lists to make sure that representation is proportional. We think that is important, because otherwise you get Parliaments that are totally unrepresentative, people feel their votes are wasted and it’s not effective democracy. That is a matter of priority and I think there’s a lot of people on the left who would agree with that.