Labour and the Conservatives have blown it – could this be the beginning of a Liberal Democrat resurgence?

Vince Cable could be the key to getting our country back, but he has to find the energy and enthusiasm to get polling numbers to spike


Matthew Norman@IndyVoices
Sunday 23 December 2018 16:58
Vince Cable comments on Labour and The Conservatives: 'If they can't stop the rot, they should leave'

On the face of it, this question demands the same reply as the one about Jesus – “And did those feet in ancient time/ Walk upon England’s mountain green?” – in “Jerusalem”.

At first glance, the answer is “No.” At second glance, it’s: “What, precisely, have you been putting in your pipe?”

But I ask it all the same. Are we on the verge of a sensational Liberal Democratic revival that will alter the course of history? Could it be that Vince Cable’s bedraggled little outfit will soon be so hot on Labour’s polling heels that Jeremy Corbyn has no viable choice but to cave on a People’s Vote?

Today, as what might sardonically be called the Westminster family pays its respects to someone who revived the Lib Dems before, there is no concrete evidence of that.

Amber Rudd admits she can ‘see the argument’ for second Brexit referendum if MPs remain split

They remain marooned at between 7 and 10 per cent in the polls.

But after Corbyn’s proclamation that Brexit would go ahead under a Labour government, the political landscape looks uncannily similar to the early 2000s, after the Labour and Tory leaderships colluded to enable a catastrophic foreign policy decision over the virulent objections of those who marched in their hundreds of thousands against it.

Millions disgusted by the invasion of Iraq had nowhere to go other than to the one mainstream national party that opposed it from the start. In the 2005 election, under Charles Kennedy, the Lib Dems cashed in with 22 per cent of the popular vote and 61 seats.

Here we are again with the leaderships of both major parties aligned in this insane proxy war, and the Lib Dems speaking with one voice against it.

Cable isn’t lightly given to smiling. If he grew what hair he has a few inches longer, he’d be a ringer for Alastair Sim’s Scrooge before the intervention of the three ghosts.

But if anything could plaster an Ebenezer-on-Christmas-morning beatific grin over those cadaverous chops, it’s the YouGov poll of a week ago.

This found that if Corbyn facilitated any kind of Brexit, Labour would slump to 22 per cent, with the Lib Dems hoovering up the refugees to leapfrog it with 26 percent.

The anecdotal evidence from social media over the last 24 hours underscores those figures. A huge chunk of Labour supporters, especially the younger ones who deified the absolute boy of a year ago, will desert Corbyn unless he stops promoting his personal distaste for the EU over the desire of the movement he allegedly leads.

There’s some way to go before that. Monumentally stubborn as he is, it’s hard to imagine that the near unanimous, white hot Facebook and Twitter reaction to Saturday’s declaration hasn’t spooked him.

If he wasn’t aware of it before, he must have an inkling now that he is on the brink of blowing his shot at power.

With him, as with Theresa May, you can admire him for steadfastness under fire or scorn him for demented intransigence. What you can’t do – not sensibly, at least, to leave some space for the cultists – is doubt the impossibility of Labour forming a government unless he yields to the will of its voters.

This is where Cable comes in. At 75, having already promised to quit (albeit with the same vagueness about the timing as May herself), this is the old hoofer’s last political tango.

Speaking of Paddy Ashdown today, he said: “He was always full of enthusiasm, optimism, drive and … wanting to lead from the front”.

Enthusiasm and optimism have never been Cable’s calling cards. Like his pre-epiphany looky-likey, he seems more comfortable muttering bah humbug at the follies of others.

But doomy warnings, like the ones he presciently gave before the 2008-9 financial disaster, won’t cut it now. He needs to activate those who take them on trust to bombard Corbyn’s office, and those of all Labour MPs, with the promise to vote Lib Dem at the next election unless he hauls his splintery arse off the fence and lands on the side of a second plebiscite.

It is never easy for the guv’nor of a tiny Commons rump to grab attention. But for the next 24 hours, Ashdown’s status as the Spirit of LibDem Revivals Past will focus some of the spotlight on Cable. I hope he uses it to make a passionate appeal to disenchanted Labour voters (and MPs) to join him if Corbyn refuses to change course.

That shouldn’t feel too grubbly opportunistic. Ashdown described Brexit as a “personal bereavement”. When he heard the result, he turned to his wife with tears in his eyes and said: “It’s not our country any more.”

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For those of us who want our country back, Cable could be the key. If he can find the energy and enthusiasm to get the Lib Dem polling numbers to spike, quickly and dramatically, the avalanche of fear cascading down from the Labour benches might sweep away Corbyn’s dogmatic self-righteousness.

Cynically, the smart political move would be to sit back and enjoy watching Labour head towards implosion along with the Tories. If Brexit happens, only one party will benefit at the next election.

But Cable, however tarnished by his presence in the Coalition cabinet, is not a cynic. He is a rare paradigm of selfless public service and rigorous common sense in an age of rank venality and cultivated stupidity.

His last chance to be a figure of historic importance is upon him. When the PM’s idea of leadership is terroristic blackmail, charging round Westminster with the no-deal apocalypse semtex strapped to her chest, and when Corbyn offers no leadership at all, someone has to lead from the front with a guerilla assault to break Corbyn’s resistance.

No pressure, Cable, but a lonely nation turns its eyes to you.

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