Vince Cable has said the creation of a new political party in the UK depends on how the Liberal Democrats perform at the general election.
In an interview with HuffPost UK, Cable said “politics after the election may be more interesting than before it” if Jeremy Corbyn refuses to quit and the Labour party “fragments”.
The former business secretary, who is hoping to recapture his old Twickenham seat in south London from the Tories on June 8, said Theresa May was “almost certain” to remain in Downing Street.
Cable, 74, said it was “possible” a new party could emerge from the ashes of a left-wing collapse at the hands of the Tories as the structure of politics was now extremely “unpredictable”.
“It depends what happens to us. I’m not predicting that. I think we will do much better. But how much better I can’t say,” he said
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has hopes of more than doubling his nine MPs at the election. However there are signs a Lib Dem fightback fuelled by a backlash against Brexit has stalled.
Cable said Brexit was no longer the main issue of concern to voters in the election as people focused on “bread and butter” issues of health and education.
Farron has put a pledge to hold a second referendum on the eventual Brexit deal at the heart of his campaign strategy.
The Lib Dems are hoping to pick up seats across south London. Cable said it was “important” that he win back Twickenham by overturning Tory Tania Mathias’s 2,017 majority.
“It’s equally important we win in Kingston and in Richmond. The prospects are good but there is a high level of uncertainty and we need a massive amount of work to be done to be sure of winning,” he added.
Last week a recording was released of Cable praising Rupa Huq, the Labour MP in Ealing Central and Acton, for opposing the triggering of Article 50.
The Conservatives said it proved the Lib Dems were trying to put together an anti-Tory “coalition of chaos” with Corbyn and the Greens.
But speaking to HuffPost UK, Cable said what he had said had been “grossly misunderstood”.
“It was nothing terribly secret, I was speaking to 200 people. I was not urging people to vote Labour. I was basically expressing admiration for one Labour MP who had voted against their party line on Brexit.
“If I was in Nottingham I would be saying exactly the same thing about [former Conservative cabinet minister] Ken Clarke.”
“I am singling out Ken partly because he was a colleague, partly because he was a great guy, and partly I would have said the same things about him as I said about the lady in Ealing.
Clarke was the only Tory MP to vote against giving May the authority to trigger Article 50 and begin the Brexit process.
Cable added: “I am not wanting to engage in cross party diplomacy at this stage of the campaign. I have got to get elected first.”
Corbyn has said he will not stand down as Labour leader should he lose the election.
Cable said there are “two scenarios” of what could happen after the election. “One is Corbyn goes and his supporters go, which is also as important because it’s not just him, it’s the Momentum crowd, and they make way for a more forward looking group of people and we get back to a situation like 30 years ago when the Labour Party pulled itself out of the abyss,” he said.
“Or it could be they stay put and the party just can’t continue to function and it fragments.”
Cable said the “logic” of Corbyn “digging in indefinitely” and staying on as leader would see the “moderates” and some of the pro-Remain Labour MPs leaving the party. “I cant see how they can possibly stay,” he said.
“Some of them may just drop out, which is what they have been doing in the last six months. I would have thought some of them will feel they have to make a stand.”
Cable began his political career in the 1970s as a member of the Labour Party before joining the newly formed Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1982.
He said a second attempt at realigning UK politics with a new breakaway party was “possible”.
“We’ve had one experiment 30 years ago, I was a foot soldier in their civil war, so I have some recollection of it.
“It is actually quite difficult to fundamentally recreate political parties in that way. But as I say, politics is more unpredictable now than it has been. I think this election is predictable. But the political structure is unpredictable. “
Cable said David Cameron’s decision to hold an EU referendum was “one of the biggest political miscalculations in our history” which has had “devastating consequences”.
“It was almost as bad as losing America in the 18th Century. He had to go. Of course he had to go,” he said of Cameron’s decision to resign.
Cable said he found while “initially” voters in Twickenham were raising Brexit on the doorstep - the conversation had now moved and concerns about healthcare and education cuts were “starting to ooze through the cracks”.
“I think the point has been made and people know where we are coming from and we have a distinctive view on it. We are not going to back off from that. But other issues are now coming to the fore,” he said. “More and more questions on the doorstep are about these bread and butter local questions.”
Twickenham voted 66% to Remain in the EU. Cable said while he spoke to many voters who were “angry” at the referendum result, there were others who were “reconciled” to leaving as well as Brexit voters who “want to be reassured you understand why they did”.
He said pro-Brexit voters wanted to be reassured the Lib Dems were not “insulting them by questioning the wisdom of what the the government is now doing”.
Last year, Cable said holding a second EU referendum would be “disrespectful” to voters.
But speaking to HuffPost UK he said the position adopted by Farron was now correct.
“I am not keen on referendums in general,” he said. “I certainly took the view when we had the original one that you can’t just tell the people to vote again.
“What I think is perfectly sensible, which is where we are now, is to say we have had a referendum, it’s been, it’s gone, parliament has now voted.
“But we voted to sell our house. We haven’t voted on where we are going. And it may be that the house that is found in two years time is perfectly habitable.
“But it may be that it’s full of dry rot and cockroaches and structural damage and when we see it we may think ‘oh my god, maybe we would like to go back to where we were’.”
“I think people should have that choice. I don’t think you can nullify the original referendum by any other way.”
Cable has said kind things to say about Ken Clarke, who served in the coalition cabinet alongside him.
But the Lib Dem was less than glowing about George Osborne and the former chancellor’s decision to take over as editor of the Evening Standard.
“I think he slightly misjudged the public mood, maybe he doesn’t care if he’s not going to be elected anymore,” Cable said. “Moving from politics into journalism, nothing wrong with that. But he was trying to do half a dozen other jobs at the same time which I think was excessive.”
In the two years he has been out of the Commons, Cable said he missed the constituency work of being an MP as well as his work as a minister. He he added: “I have got on with my life. You’ve got to be resilient in politics.”
Cable, who has received the endorsement of Twickenham resident and James Bond actress Samantha Bond, also welcomed any support for the Lib Dems from Harry Styles.
The singer told the Sunday Times he would vote for “whoever is against Brexit”.
Cable said anything that helped with “connecting” to the younger generation was useful. “I know One Direction are not a teeny bopper pop group, but it helps to have that support,” he said.