Vince Cable calls on Lib Dems to liberate Britain from 'Brexit nightmare'
has urged Liberal Democrat activists to lead a “crusade” to liberate Britain from the “Brexit nightmare”, by making common cause with moderates from other parties.
The Lib Dem leader was giving the closing address to his party’s annual conference in Brighton, where he sketched out reforms aimed at tempting a wave of new supporters to sign up for what he has called a “march of the moderates”.
He insisted the Lib Dems would be “leading the resistance to the forces of illiberalism. Leading a crusade to give the people the final say on our future in , and looking outwards to a changing world, with confidence and determination that our values will outlast and outclass the forces ranged against them.”
In a strongly worded attack on both major parties, Cable said Labour and the Tories had been captured by the extremes – and the Lib Dems must “extend the hand of friendship” to disillusioned members from both.
“Let them in. And if they are too shy to come in, let us extend the hand of friendship and co-operate with them,” he said.
He added: “The two big parties have changed from broad churches into intolerant cults. And those who question the faith are unwelcome.”
With the prime minister battling to secure a deal with Brussels, which she will then have to bring back to parliament for approval, Cable hopes the Lib Dems can profit from the deep divisions rocking Labour and the Conservatives.
“The Labour leadership is dominated by people who believe in doctrines far removed from the sensible social democratic tradition which prevailed from the days of Clement Attlee to Gordon Brown.”
“They in turn are the mirror image of the Tory zealots who have more in common with Ukip than their party’s one nation traditions,” he said.
Cable added that “fundamentalists” were prepared to risk the economic future of the poorest people in the UK in return for leaving the EU in an “erotic spasm” – a phrase that he garbled in his delivery.
“For the true believers – the fundamentalists – the costs of Brexit have always been irrelevant,” he will say. “Economic pain felt, of course, not by them [but] by those least able to afford it.”
He compared the former foreign secretary Boris Johnson to the US president, Donald Trump, calling the pair “the terrible twins of the rabid right”.
As the negotiations in Brussels reach their endgame, and with a growing number of MPs in both parties publicly backing another Brexit referendum, Cable said: “Much now depends on the courage of mainstream MPs in the Labour and Conservative parties. They are losing control and if they can’t stop the rot, they should leave.”
He also sought to capitalise on Labour’s internal woes, saying party members should “wave goodbye” to Jeremy Corbyn if he fails to shift his position and endorse the idea of a “people’s vote”.
Labour will gather in Liverpool next weekend, with its members set to discuss the issue of a people’s vote on the conference floor, after it was forced on to the agenda by trade unions and local parties.
The Lib Dems performed strongly in May’s local elections, gaining three councils, including in Cable’s backyard in south-west London. But there has been widespread speculation about Cable’s future in recent weeks, with aides conceding that if the parliament runs to its full five years, so that the next general election would be in 2022, the now 75 year old would not fight it as leader.
He sidestepped the question of his personal future in the speech, instead setting out a series of policies he said would equip Britain for a future beyond Brexit.
In particular, party members voted on Tuesday to back radical tax reforms that would abolish inheritance tax, instead taxing the recipients of large bequests – or lifetime gifts – at their own marginal tax rate, above a lifetime allowance.
Capital gains tax would also be levied at the same rate as income tax under the proposals. The Lib Dems say the package would raise about £15bn in total – one-third of which would be set aside to create a sovereign wealth fund.
At last year’s general election, the Lib Dems failed to make gains on the scale then-leader Tim Farron had hoped for, with the party’s anti-Brexit message overshadowed by his personal beliefs. He stepped aside shortly afterwards, giving way to Cable, who was business secretary in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition of 2010-15.
Senior party figures clashed in Brighton this week over whether they should celebrate or deplore the decisions they supported while in government.
Cable’s deputy, Jo Swinson, said the Lib Dems needed to “own the failures” of that period; while the former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg insisted he remained proud of the party’s role.
“There is this narrative hung round the Lib Dem party’s neck, which is just false, that we sold our soul, merrily went along with a savage, ideological approach to austerity which deliberately penalised the poor. It is simply not true,” Clegg said.