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Thursday, 27 May 2010

Cable resigns as deputy leader

Yesterday Vince Cable announced his decision to quit his role as party deputy leader to focus on his responsibilities as business secretary.

In his resignation letter, he stated "...in joining the cabinet I have taken on many new challenges and responsibilities and it is right that I focus wholeheartedly on the job in hand...these are exciting times to be a Liberal Democrat and, despite all the challenges we face, we have a real opportunity to change Britain for the better. There are great opportunities for the party alongside our working in coalition."

Nick Clegg has already paid tribute to a "fantastic deputy" (something of an understatement) and added that they will continue to work together in government.

There has been the usual, and unhelpful, media speculation about possible political motivations behind Mr Cable's decision. While myself and several other Liberal Democrats will be sorry to see him step down from this role, especially as he provided some real leadership for our party during the economic downturn, this is a decision based on pragmatism. The role of business secretary is a demanding position which will require a greal deal of Mr Cable's considerable energy in addition to his obvious leadership skills. It is likely he feels he no longer has the time to give the deputy leadership role what it deserves and therefore it is entirely understandable that he should concentrate on cabinet responsibilities, allowing someone else to step up and help take our party forward.

I am sure I speak for most Liberal Democrats when I say how appreciative we are of Vince Cable's incredible contribution to the party and the country during his time as deputy leader, in addition to the intellectual rigour and credibility of his vision for an economically healthier Britain which he now has the chance to implement.

The question now is who will step up to the deputy leadership? I believe a lot of smart people's money is on Simon Hughes. I have no doubt this would be a popular choice among activists and a just reward for almost three decades of dedicated service. The "radical" (left-wing) Liberals love him and he looks pretty good on TV. He clearly has both the ability and appetite for the job. What I do doubt is whether he would be the choice of most Lib Dem MPs, who might see his appointment as a retrograde step.

I personally think the party should take this opportunity to look to the future. Having many of our talented and capable MPs are serving as ministers allows us the luxury of turning to the next generation. I can think of a number of young MPs who I believe have the dynamism and qualities to both effectively serve as deputy leader and help move the party forward.

I would love to see either Steve Webb or Lynne Featherstone as deputy leader although, given they are serving ministers, they are unlikely to put themselves forward. The same applies to Sarah Teather.

Others that I am sure would serve with distinction (my "four to follow") are:

Lorely Burt. Previously Shadow Minister for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and spokesperson for Women and Equality. First female House of Commons chairman.

Tim Farron. Formerly Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Sensible and decent; while he may be considered a "safe" option I believe he has the capability to serve as an effective "bridge" between the rank-and-file and his cabinet colleagues. Social liberal, contributed to Reinventing the State.

Michael Moore. Former Shadow Secretary of State for International Development; previous chief of staff to Sir Menzies Campbell and researcher to David Steel. Deputy leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Jo Swinson. Previously Shadow Foreign Affairs Spokesperson and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities. Independently minded and has shown dynamic and innovative leadership on women's issues. Titled "the nation's hardest working MP" by the Scottish Sun.

From these exceptional talents I would probably prefer Lorely Burt on a personal level, but also see the political potential of appointing Jo Swinson. She has an incredible ability to connect easily with people while providing determined leadership in difficult circumstances (think Real Women). I also believe that, given the position of the respective coalition partners in Scotland, a Scottish deputy leader would help instil a distinctly Scottish feel into the federal party - something which may be important in maintaining our party's continuing appeal north of the border.

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