Vince Cable has announced his resignation as the leader of the Liberal Democrats. Sort of.
The Twickenham MP has said that he has no wish to lead the party in his 80s, and if this parliament runs to its allotted length he will be 79 at the time of the next election. But he has instead said he will stand down “when Brexit is stopped or resolved”. Of course, the thing about Brexit is that it is hard to say definitively when it has been “resolved”: so that gives Cable a significant degree of wriggle room should the political situation for the Liberal Democrats look radically different by March 2019 or if an election looks imminent.
But the immediate effect of the announcement will be to turn the party’s conference – one of the few times when the party might expect to get some kind of look-in in the press – into a beauty pageant. Almost all of its possible leadership contenders have conference speeches and the receptions they receive will be keenly studied.
As for Cable’s proposals for the rules of the next leadership contest, they have to pass through the party’s rulemaking bodies first. It seems unlikely they will do so without significant amendment. Due-paying members are unlikely to accept the creation of a new group of voters with equal weight in a leadership election but no financial contribution, while the proposal to allow non-MPs to run for leader may collapse under scrutiny.
But Cable has ensured at least that his political interventions will take place without a drumbeat of speculation about whether he should go.