Nigel Farage and Jeremy Corbyn
Vince Cable, The Independent
People, like political parties, have their ups and downs. I am no exception and nor are the Liberal Democrats. Now we are back on the up – with the party’s biggest advance in seats at local elections ever – it is right to remember where we came from.
I hit an all-time career low four years ago today. In the space of 24 hours, I went from being a senior cabinet minister to being an ex-MP facing enforced retirement. My party had been smashed. A lot of excellent Lib Dem colleagues also lost their seats, following the pattern of significant losses at council level over a four year period.
I will always remember the following morning. I went for a walk in the countryside with my wife, Rachel. We counted our blessings, and as ever I was grateful to have her by my side. And I came back determined not to give up on returning to politics.
Thankfully, things can change relatively quickly. Two years on, I was back in parliament with a near 10,000 majority and a few weeks later I was elected unopposed as the party Leader. I became accustomed to snide, dismissive comments about a shrunken base of MPs and councillors; about the lack of media interest and low profile we were accorded. But I took the view that we had to ignore those who had written us off as a «busted flush», and who imagined that the beguiling prospect of creating «something new» could shortcut the hard work needed to rebuild.
I made it clear that rebuilding the Lib Dems’ damaged local government base would be a personal priority. In consequence, I spent what colleagues told me was a disproportionate amount of time escaping Westminster and supporting local candidates on the ground. I visited 25 of the council areas we made progress in during the last few months. The Conservative government’s terrible handling of Brexit, and Jeremy Corbyn’s hopeless fence-sitting certainly helped us advance. But Liberal Democrats never win by accident. Our campaign teams’ very hard work, their commitment to keeping the liberal flame burning in Britain, and a well-oiled campaigning machine brought about our spectacular results.
There were big Lib Dem gains in Remain areas and Leave areas; rural and suburban; big cities and market towns. A few years after a real drubbing, we exceeded our tally from even those achieved in the dog days of the Major government, and in the aftermath of the Iraq War. 10 councils gained in outright control, a net gain of more than 600 seats, while both of our rivals as main parties fell back. Remarkably, the biggest swing in any seat was in Barnsley, where one of our candidates took the Liberal Democrat vote share in his/her ward from 6 per cent of the vote to more than 70 per cent.
We regard this success as a springboard going into the European elections in three weeks’ time. Many people didn’t want them to take place and will be angry that the Brexit supporters couldn’t agree amongst themselves, leading to the present impasse. I have no doubt Nigel Farage will garner a lot of Brexit votes.
So people will have to be careful not to waste their vote. After the local elections, it is beyond dispute that the Liberal Democrats are the biggest, best organised, Remain party with a long record of commitment to the European cause.
Beyond 23 May – whatever the results – there is then an urgent need to rebuild British politics and clear up the present mess. With the Lib Dems firmly back in business, we want to work with those who share our values to bring about a powerful movement in the centre ground. No doubt it will take more determination, more hard work and more campaigning, but victories like those we saw this week show that there is a prize worth seizing.
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