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Vince Cable is the man to scare Jeremy Corbyn into supporting a second referendum

July 31, 2017 4:05 PM
By Matthew Norman in The Independent

Vince CableIf the several million passionately pro-EU young voters who rode to Corbyn's rescue tire of the tightrope-walking, they will find Vince's Lib Dems waiting with open arms

Almost seven years after Bruce Forsyth introduced him on a Strictly Come Dancing Christmas show, when he (and dance partner Erin Boag) wowed the judges with their Foxtrot, Vince Cable has returned to centre stage.

Without Brucie on hand to give him the big build up, you might just have missed it. But 10 days ago, the Twickenham Terpsichore finally became permanent leader of the Liberal Democrats at 74 years young.

For all the lack of fanfare, his return may one day be seen as an important moment. If so - if Vince can help bring about either the softest of Brexits or the second referendum that might rescue us from the oncoming calamity - remember you read it here first.

If not - if the memory of his collusion with austerity politics as coalition Trade Secretary and his continuing support for tuition fees makes him as impotent as Little Fallon - you never read it here at all. Capisce?

No one knows nothing about "nuffink", of course, other perhaps than this. Brexit has mired the two main parties in such confusion that the opening for a credible alternative with an unequivocal populist stance is gapingly clear.

The issue is both paralysing the Tories and driving them to civil war. While Theresa May ambles through the Alps like a superannuated Maria, with that Arthur Askey husband filling in for Christopher Plummer, the hills are alive with the sound of rebellion.

With Philip Hammond (and Amber Rudd) trying to effect a low-key coup against her inexplicably dogmatic Hard Brexit, "friends" of Boris Johnson and David Davis brief against the Chancellor. It's insipid stuff compared with the Washington, DC equivalent. No one has accused anyone of being "a f****** paranoiac" or being supple enough to master the elusive art of auto-fellatio. Perhaps when Trump tires of him (mid-August, you'd guess), the Mooch will nip over to show us how it's done.

Yet, however milquetoast the sniping, this is a Cabinet riven by rivalry, mutual loathing and enveloping cluelessness as to how exiting the EU without detonating the economy can be managed.

Although Labour has done brilliantly so far at disguising this, it is barely less split than the Tories. Jeremy Corbyn, as Cable pointed out in a recent article, is far keener on Hard Brexit than May. Contempt for the EU has always been one of those points at which the far-left and far-right meet round the back. Whether Corbyn actually voted Out is between him and his ballot paper. But no one doubts he would have wished to, or that the truancy from the referendum campaign of someone whose great joy is campaigning was a device to avoid perjuring himself in public.

So it is that a man with a strong antipathy to the EU finds himself leading a party strongly committed to staying in the EU, after an election success built in large part on deliberate ambiguity. But if contradictory statements from Corbyn and various shadow ministers about staying in the Single Market and Customs Union were designed to maintain that ambiguity, what they have done is to look almost as befuddled as the Tories.

If and when the several million passionately pro-EU young voters who rode to Corbyn's rescue tire of the tightrope-walking, they will find Vince's Lib Dems waiting with open arms. Already, he has nimbly reversed his step over a second referendum. Betting the house that support will drain away from Leave as the general horror of Brexit and its specific impact on consumer prices hits home, he is now in favour.

Cable is seldom reticent about reminding us that, as the Cassandra of the 2008-9 economic crash, he has a fine record in soothsaying. In this case he has a more proactive role to play than staying the sooth.

If he can find the form of his temporary leadership in 2007, when in his most celebrated appearance he savaged Gordon Brown with "Stalin to Mr Bean", he might seduce enough young Remainers to frighten Corbyn into reversing his opposition to a second referendum, making one much more likely.

It's a mixed blessing for the holder of the title "Best Leader The Party Never Had" to surrender it by becoming leader. In politics, as in most things, the travelling is more fun than the arriving.

But despite the drolly sepulchral persona, Vince Cable isn't short of ego - and if he regards himself as a potentially historic figure, he might just be right. Should the polls shift from roughly 50-50 to 60-40 for Remain, it's hard to imagine how that second referendum could be denied. He has the talent to help shift them.

At the very least, he will inject some anti-hysterical, centrist common sense into public debate, which we could all use, and bring that sardonic wit to the party. I'm looking forward to the returning hero's first PMQs of the new parliamentary session. Whatever his conveyor belt of lovingly prepared attack lines has in store for the PM (Boadicea to Mrs Overall in a few weeks?), it won't be a cuddly toy.

All in all, then, it's nice to see Vince back, to see Vince back, as his Strictly warm-up man would want to add for clarity. Nice.