Sunday 14 September 2008

David Lammy and Vince Cable swap Lib-Lab heroes

“I probably wouldn’t be here in 2008 as a government minister if it wasn’t for one of the great figures of 20th century British politics: Roy Jenkins”, said David Lammy at the Fabian/CentreForum fringe in Bournemouth, to exemplify his argument that the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties shared “liberal ends: the idea that we are all of equal worth” and had fought important historic battles – from the abolition of the Lods veto, to action on race and , to civil partnerships - for the extension of rights.

Vince Cable said that such public discussions across party lines could see speakers become excessively tribal “to avoid any suspicion of collaboration” but that he wished to follow David Lammy’s “splendid example” in detribalising the discussion.

He had recently been asked for "the biggest political influence on my life". He had eschewed the temptation and gentle prompting from party HQ to cite Roy Jenkins, Lloyd George, Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi – “the safe but boring choices".

“The name I gave them was John Smith, who I happened to have worked for and greatly liked, and who represented that tradition of fairness and decency which represented the politics of the progressive left. Or, as an alternative, Anthony Crosland, who I also worked for, His book, which happened to be called The Future of Socialism was very important for my generation.

“It was the first attempt to explain coherently why the old model was irrelevant – and why there was a different, better social democratic approach. It was quite radical by our standards – he was advocating wealth taxes and so on – but it is part of our tradition too”, said Cable.

Michael White had noted that Charles Clarke had attended the LibDem conference when party chair in 2001 "well before political cross-dressing became fashionable". Clarke said he hoped his presence in 2001 and 2008 could help to address the charge that Labour’s interest in the Liberal Democrats fluctuated with its standing in the opinion polls.

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