Vince Cable: The Lib Dems will fill the gaping hole in the centre ground of British politics
As the Liberal Democrats congregate for their annual conference, Vince Cable says his party offers a real hope for Britain.
The House Magazine’s readership is one steeped in the ways of Parliament. We have different political perspectives, but we hold in common a belief that Parliament should be at the core of making public policy. How damaging then that this central democratic principle has been betrayed in the short weeks of this year’s September sitting.
Conservative MPs, egged on by Labour rebels, have waved through legislation which, if passed unamended, removes parliamentarians from effective scrutiny of the most pressing political issue of our time – the process of Brexit. And this fragile government has managed to manipulate the parliamentary process to rig the arithmetic of all public bill committees, gifting themselves the majority denied to them by voters. For the House of Commons to be marginalised in this way is seriously worrying beyond measure.
Meanwhile, those outside the Westminster bubble face another year of bracing uncertainty. The Brexit negotiations are in difficulty, with the UK government unable even to persuade the EU27 to agree their timetable for discussions. For all of the Brexiteers’ sabre rattling about the inefficacy of the EU, it turns out to be rather good at defending its own members’ interests.
This matters because the outcome will affect every citizen, and the potential damage to our economy will affect every public service. Every headteacher who wants to employ an experienced teacher, every hospital director who wants to care well for their patients, every prison governor who wants to ensure inmates are rehabilitated – all of them all rely on economic growth and stability to fund their services.
Continued membership of the single market and customs union is vital to that growth, so the Liberal Democrats will continue to stand up for both. And we are the only UK party offering public vote with the option of an ‘exit from Brexit’ when the details of the Government’s deal are known. It is very clear that the commitments of the Leave campaign – from the £350m extra each week for our NHS to the perennial promise of cake both to have and to eat – will not be delivered. We are not proposing first referendum on the facts rather than the fantasy. If Brexiteers are so confident in their ability to negotiate an acceptable outcome, what have they to fear from that?
Meanwhile, public services need urgent attention. At this year’s election, Liberal Democrats were clear that the NHS and social care system needs more funding if it is to meet the increased demands being placed upon it. To fund that, we should ask taxpayers for another penny in the pound – the NHS is one of the most popular institutions in the country, and I believe voters will be prepared to fund it if they are confident that this money will reach the frontline.
In my own constituency, I also hear disturbing tales too about the real crises facing schools because of cuts to their funding. This is a false economy of the worst kind, betraying children by cutting corners with their education. But as with the NHS there must be clarity about where the money comes from.
Furthermore, there is a damaging gulf between generations. Young people going into work have never been so disadvantaged in the housing market. That’s why I’ll be calling at this conference for the government to stop leaving housing supply to the private sector. We need a mixed economy to maximise supply, with a role for councils, housing associations and private developers.
As Lib Dems gather in Bournemouth, we offer real hope for Britain. A grown-up approach to the economy, a democratic and robust approach to exiting the slow-motion train crash of Brexit, and a realistic approach to building homes and funding public services.
I look forward to our debates, to meeting our hugely increased membership on the fringe and to raising the profile of our party as we seek to fill the gaping hole in the centre of British politics.
Vince Cable is the leader of the Liberal Democrats and MP for Twickenham