Vince Cable kicks off Lib Dem leadership contest as he confirms departure date
Sir Vince Cable has kicked off the Liberal Democrat leadership race as he confirmed he will stand down at the end of July.
The Lib Dem boss thanked party volunteers as opinion polls showed they are on course to come second in the European elections when the results are announced on Sunday night.
He said he would be “proud to hand over a bigger, stronger party” on 23 July and spurred his troops on to “regain ground at Westminster, with a big group of MPs and real influence on the national stage”.
But his move is likely to be overshadowed after Theresa May announced just hours before that she will quit as Tory leader on 7 June to make way for a new Prime Minister.
It means both parties' leadership contests will follow exactly the same timetable, meaning the battle to be Lib Dem boss will be overshadowed.
Sir Vince leaves the top job on a high after storming the local elections at the start of May and defeating both the Tories and Labour at the European Parliament vote.
In an email today, seen by PoliticsHome, he told activists: “Our campaigning over the last three years has kept the cause of remaining in the European Union alive, and I now believe we have a strong chance of stopping Brexit.”
He added: “Many who kept going through difficult years for the party are now enjoying our resurgence as a major national force.”
And he went on: “I said earlier this year that the time would soon come to hand over the leadership of the party to a new generation. That process begins today: I will be proud to hand over a bigger, stronger party on July 23rd…
“There are major challenges ahead. One is to win, finally, the battle to stop Brexit. Our campaigning has given hope; now we need to secure a referendum in Parliament, and then win it.
“Another is the opportunity created by the conflict and decay within the two main parties to build a powerful, liberal, green, and social democratic force in the centre ground of British politics. We are now in an excellent position to lead such a movement.
“As we do so, I am confident that we will regain ground at Westminster, with a big group of MPs and real influence on the national stage.”
Only two candidates are expected to throw their hats into the ring for the top job, according to Lib Dem sources: the ex-ministers Ed Davey and deputy leader Jo Swinson.
Sir Vince tried to change the party rules earlier this year to allow non-members to vote in internal elections and to allow non-MPs to stand for the leadership, but the Lib Dem membership rejected his proposals.