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Vince Cable’s leadership will be seen as an opportunity missed

3 7 10
20.03.2019

When Vince Cable became leader of the Liberal Democrats in 2017 – almost by default, as one of the few left standing – he deserved it. His had been a career defined by his party colleagues failing to harness his talents, and at last he had secured its top job. But last week he announced he would resign in May, at a point when it is likely the Lib Dems will have to step up: either for a decisive election or a people’s vote. For a mere two-year leadership span, it already feels like he has hung on far too long.

Cable’s political life really started when he became a Labour councillor in 1971, and then defected to the newly created SDP in 1982. The impression he made on colleagues at that time was that of an unassuming team player, a man nerdily enthusiastic about the details of national policy and disinclined to throw his weight around. But if this was useful to those around him it did not boost his career. It translated as a lack of charisma, an impression not helped by his reserved manner and slightly nasal voice. When he eventually stood for the Lib Dems in 1992, in Twickenham, the entirety of the party’s resources went instead to Jenny Tonge, who was standing in Richmond (she quit the party in 2016 over alleged antisemitic comments). He was not viewed by colleagues as a future star – he was instead something of a “supporting........

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