My Radical reaction to Vince`s speech


Hello I feel a blog coming on

I am starting to write this blog post at around 9am on Friday 7th September because there has been a lot of publicity over the last few days that Liberal Democrat Party leader Vince Cable is due to make an “exciting and important” speech in about half and hour. I shall be listening, of course, and then I hope to make a few comments of my own afterwards, depending upon what he says, of course.

So, why am I starting to write before he speaks you may ask? The reason is that I have been troubled by the rumours of what he is supposed, or expected, to be saying and I want to be ready to react as soon as possible afterwards, so I am writing my introduction on the basis of what I have heard and then will comment directly on his speech as soon thereafter as possible.

The rumours are that he will talk of creating a new “Centrist Movement”, presumably fed by people who may have some access to his thought process. If that is not the case, then we would then need to respond to the question of why and how such rumours started. Are those rumours meant to be supportive of a Centrist Movement, or were they designed to undermine what it is that Vince Cable is actually going to say.

The only legitimate way I can raise my concerns, then, is to lay the groundwork for those concerns before he has spoken and without the benefit of hindsight, otherwise my response will not be genuine, it would have been “constructed” – which is so often the way of pieces written after the event.

Why am I concerned about Centrist Movement rumours? Because I am not a Centrist and have argued in blog posts before, that I do not believe Liberal Democrats should be Centrist, because it ill-defines Liberalism and what that is really about. My other concern about the rumours is that there will be a suggestion, somehow, that people outside the framework of the party – in other words people not prepared to “pay their dues” to the Party, can somehow legitimately lay claim to voting for the leader of our political grouping or party. If that is going to be the case I shall argue below why I think it would be a bad idea, but I felt the need to lay that groundwork before hearing the speech.

OK, that task has been achieved in my mind, I shall now await the speech and we`ll see what gives. Since there is a little time left before 9.30 let me also say that there is a possibility that this is a clever tactic to double the amount of publicity we might have been expected to get from the Party Conference for a party that is still struggling along in the doldrums around 8% or 9% in opinion polls (Indeed, one recent poll even put us in fourth place behind a refreshed UKIP, where we were on 6% and they were on 7% or 8%!)

OK – it is now 9.36 and the speech was scheduled to start at 9.35 – the screen says “We’re currently experiencing technical difficultites with the livestream. Please stand by.” – By the way, it really does say “DIFFICULTITES” – that is the Party`s typo, not mine! 9.40am and the difficultites continue, just refreshed the screen!

Well – turning into a damp squib. 9.46 and the typo has been corrected but the live feed has not yet appeared, so I am now involved in a thread discussion. (9.54 now and it clearly is not going to be live-streamed at all. The on-screen message has been changed, the typo has been corrected, and we are told the speech will be “posted” on the page “soon”. I understand the speech is being made at the National Liberal Club, but no idea how large the audience is, nor whom it contains. There was a news item about a week ago where MPs and “leading Liberal Democrats” were told to keep today free because there was to be this exciting and important speech etc.

Takes me back about 50 years to when I was a trainee in Unilever`s advertising agency, Lintas. It was about this time of year too. I had only been employed a few weeks and about ten or a dozen trainees were working in syndicates preparing “advertising campaigns” for mythical products. Our group of four had worked up a really good campaign for those large bullet-like peas that did not make it into the Bird`s Eye packs of petit pois. It was (we thought, anyway) a cracking campaign and we presented it to the bosses at the agency, but we got two slides upside down in the projector. We laughed it off and thought we`d get plaudits for a fun campaign! As it was we got severely slated for getting the two slides upside down.

I remember it as clear as day – “You are in the communications industry! If you lose your audience at this stage with upside down slides, you`ll never win them back!” – a deeply learnt lesson about professionalism – sadly apparently lacking today!

OK, clearly, I cannot comment yet on the contents since I haven`t heard `em, so I will just have to comment on the rumours and come back to what Vince actually says (said?) later. The rumours are, then, that Lib Dems need to “become a movement” in somehow the same sense that Macron made a movement in France which led to him becoming President of France. Or, perhaps the way Justin Trudeau took hold of the Canadian Liberal Party and turned it back into a vote-winner.

Apparently (the rumours go) Vince sees the Liberal Democrats as the potential focal point for a Centrist group of exit-from-Brexit types including Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry. A sort of Grand Central Coalition maybe.

OK – it is just after 10.30 am and the BBC News Channel, during its 10.30 bulletin played a short clip from Vince Cable`s speech. We`ll have to wait and see if it is the only sound-bite that gets aired, but if so it has been presented as Vince paving the way for his retirement from the office of Leader in the next year and Vince determining that the Party should have a much wider choice for the next leader, including non-parliamentarians. “Politics in the UK is damaged”, he said, “if not broken”.

If that is it, I am not totally impressed that it was an exciting and important speech that warranted the hype, but will have to wait and see when the full speech has been posted on the website. If electing a leader from outside the Party is the ultimate goal, then there will have to be a change to the Constitution. There is no way that can happen at the Party Conference in Brighton next week, there is no debate and the date for emergency resolutions and amendments has already passed, so, unless there is a call for a Special Conference, or whether it needs to be brought to the Spring Conference, this is not about to happen soon. It is NOT in the gift of the Leader of the Liberal Democrats to make that change to the constitution from the top.

The Liberal Democrat party is a party of the members. It is democratic and any change to the constitution has to be passed by a two thirds majority. It looks as though the timing of the speech may have something to do with possibly raising a topical motion (in response to a topical matter – i.e. Vince`s speech) which would be about the only way a change could even be promulgated immediately. That would, however, require a special Conference because any change to the Constitution needs six weeks` notice.

I cannot comment any more until I see the speech in full – and there is no sign of it yet on the Party website. Perhaps I will write about this again, or maybe not, depends how exciting it gets


About Keith Melton - Green Lib Dem

Retired English liberal environmentalist living in Nottinghamshire; spent six years in Brazil. Author of Historical Novel - Captain Cobbler: the Lincolnshire Uprising 1536. Active member of the Green Liberal Democrats - (pressure group in Liberal Democrats) - was Founding Chair of GLD in 1988
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2 Responses to My Radical reaction to Vince`s speech

  1. Well, its all out now and I am excited. As a member of the Green Liberal Democrats, a paid up member of the Party and an elected Liberal Democrat County Councillor I think this is radical enough to keep me interested. It may all go very wrong and there maybe members who totally disagree with me but isn’t that what this is all about? The country has split because politicians and politics has let them down so keeping going as we are is not an option.

    Things may look very different after the normal discussions and arguments and I suspect there will be many. Here in Wales the facebook groups have been going mad with “this isn’t the party I have fought for for so long……..” but I am not afraid to say that the party as it is is not getting any votes or taking us anywhere.

    Please don’t tell me that we should not go down the road of getting votes at any cost because at the moment we are not really doing that well either.

    Look forward to seeing your response after taking it all in. Let the dust settle a while before weighing in with criticism and divisions in the party. We are still all liberals whether left, right or centrist and that is what should be giving us strength and fortitude to see a new way which is so desperately needed.

    I am very proud that our Leader decided to take a risk, a risk that no one else has been prepared to take for the sake of democracy.

    • Thanks Jackie – your enthusiasm is catching. As long as Green issues do not get lost in the long grass, I shall endeavour not to be too critical. But my experience is that Green issues have often got lost in the Liberal long grass, so I will reserve judgement until the Centrist grass grows a little more!

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