Why oh why is this man not the Lib Dem leader?
The screen shot is of Vince Cable smiling during yesterday’s leader’s speech by Nick Clegg at the end of the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth. He got a great ovation from the audience when Clegg singled him out for special praise. But shouldn’t it have been the party’s shadow chancellor who was on the stage not the young ex-MEP who screwed up his whole conference by suggesting that the state pension is Â£30 a week?
Clegg’s speech was reasonably OK but why try to ape Cameron by appearing to do it without notes when you have massive autocue monitors round the hall? It just appeared staged and contrived. Cameron really does remember every word.
So yet again a question mark hangs over the Lib Dem leadership. Clegg has improved but in that vital first few months at the start of the year he failed to make the impact that he should. He just didn’t convince. When his first big political test came on the Lisbon treaty vote he came up with a convoluted solution which even several of his MPs were not prepared to go along with.
Clegg’s position is made much worse by presence of Vince Cable – one of the few politicians of any party who is able to combine gravitas, humour and the ability to make a compelling case time and time again.
I’m told that last October after Ming resigned that Cable was advised not to put his hat into the ring because the party could not cope with replacing one man in his mid-60s with another who was not that much younger.
At the time the party hierarchy had got it into its head that if the Tories were doing well with an Oxbridge-educated former public school boy in his early 40s then they should do the same. How wrong they were.
A Lib Dem leader has to be able to command attention in a media world that finds a third party hard to deal with. It requires someone with special qualities and appeal. Cable has those – sadly Clegg hasn’t.
It would be ridiculous for the Lib Dems to switch leaders again but what an opportunity missed last year. Those in the party establishment who convinced themselves that Clegg was right bear an enormous responsibility. They cocked it big time.