Nominations for the post of leader of the Lib Dems don’t officially close until Thursday, but we already know the name of the winner – Vince Cable. In fact, Cable tells me, as every other MP has pledged to support him, he is already de facto leader, and has just come from a strategy session with his parliamentary colleagues to discuss how to get their ailing party back on the map. In the election in June, the Lib Dems managed to gain a few seats and now number a round dozen, but their vote share was a measly 7.4% compared with 23% in 2010. The collapse has been calamitous.
“One of the advantages of having a coronation as opposed to a competition is that it gives us time to plan and organise,” he says. “There is a downside, but the upside is that I can get on and start doing things, and I already am. I’ve been out there in the past 10 days on Brexit and the economy.”
I congratulate him on his recent interventions – likening Theresa May’s attack on rootless “citizens of nowhere” to the language used by Hitler (though he later revised his opinion and said it was closer to Stalin) and suggesting to Andrew Marr that “Brexit may never happen”.
“We have to be heard above the noise,” he explains. “We’re not the force we were in 2010 in terms of MPs and vote share, and it’s a big challenge to build it back up again.”
Cable, who is 74, hesitated before throwing his hat – he is very much a hat man – in the ring, but claims others encouraged him to do so. If Jo Swinson, the favourite for the job, had stood, he says he probably wouldn’t have opposed her, but she preferred to go for the deputy leadership. He denies rumours that he will stand down after a few years to make way for Swinson, and insists that in the unlikely event that the government runs its full term, he will be ready to fight an election despite being almost 80.