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30 March 2015updated 04 Oct 2023 12:02pm

Is Vince Cable trying to rule out Lib Dem/Tory negotiations in a leadership bid?

The Business Secretary and veteran of the Lib Dem left is on manoeuvres.

By Anoosh Chakelian

It looks like Vince Cable has plans for the hung parliament. He has criticised leadership frontrunner Tim Farron as “not credible”, suggested the Lib Dems would block an in/out EU referendum, and has just told the Independent that he’s “not pushing” for another deal with the Tories.

Here’s the key passage from the Independent interview:

While not setting out explicitly to hold the balance of power again, “I would think there is a high probability we will have a significant influence”. As for a repeat of a Tory-Lib Dem coalition: “I am not ruling that out but I am not pushing for it.”

All these recent interventions from the Business Secretary suggest he’s manoeuvring to avoid working with the Tories next time round. As a veteran of the Lib Dem left, Cable’s more natural home would be in negotiations with Labour. But do his comments convey an ambition to lead the party as these negotiations go ahead?

The Westminster wisdom is that Vince Cable’s prospects as future Lib Dem leader disappeared during the party’s conference in 2013.

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You remember Lib Dem conference from two years ago, don’t you? Of course you do. It’s etched fondly in your memory. It was the one where Cable, prone to veering off-message even at the most coalitious of times, lashed out at his Tory coalition partners with abandon.

He mooted that the Lib Dems could walk out of the coalition early, condemned the “Nasty party” for its “dog-whistle politics” and “blinkered, small-state ideology”, and generally made a nuisance of himself. Rumours circulated that he wouldn’t turn up for the party’s crunch vote on the coalition’s spending plans. When he did attend, he was roundly characterised as a damp squib, whose stock in the party was no longer as high as once thought.

Before his influence apparently plummeted in the eyes of the press, Cable was thought to be one of the top candidates to succeed Nick Clegg. His main opponent was Tim Farron, another darling of the party’s left flank.

One senior Lib Dem MP to the left of the party tells me: “Vince Cable is very clever, and I would like to see him as Chancellor in the next government if we work with Labour. I think he could be Chancellor. But he’s a bit old to be leading the party and not many of us see him as a future leader anymore.

“Tim Farron is very good at rallying the troops and is better known now. You’d want him turning up as speaker at your constituency dinners, and he’s always on the rubber chicken circuit – well, we call it his rubber tofu circuit because he’s a vegetarian. But does that make you the best person to be leader either? Or should you be more above the fray? Vince is a bit wiser, he has a bit more gravitas.”

Perhaps the man who David Cameron described as a “perpetual Jeremiah” will be smiling yet.

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