Vince Cable suffered a minor stroke when he was leader of the Liberal Democrats, which severely affected his performance at speeches and other political events, he said in a memoir released on Sunday.
The former business secretary has decided to keep his health issues a secret for over a year and continue to lead until his resignation in July 2019.
Now 79, he says in his memoirs that he wondered if he should be made public at the time, but came to the conclusion that people would have thought of him as a “goner” if he had.
On one occasion in early summer 2018, he was addressing MPs during a Brexit debate in the House of Commons. “I totally lost my bearings and for what seemed like an eternity I was paralyzed,” he wrote.
“There weren’t many MEPs in the hemicycle and those present were half asleep or working on their phones, so I was able to pick up my pace without too much attention. But my confidence was seriously shaken.
The revelation of the stroke, which happened on a flight to Italy in May 2018, comes towards the end of Partnership and Politics in a Divided Decade. The book weaves together Cable’s account of the 10 years that began with the formation of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition in 2010, with memories of his wife, Rachel Smith, who kept a diary of that time.
Cable says that after being diagnosed with a stroke, “I tried to get back into a regular routine, behaving like nothing had happened, even though it was hard to keep up with long meetings and I was aware of having a ‘funny voice’.” He now thinks he should have been clear, as it would have helped many others dealing with similar setbacks.
At the Lib Dems’ annual conference in September 2018, Cable ate the punchline of a joke his spin doctor had pre-tweeted to the press. Instead of referring to Brexiters’ ‘erotic spasm’ on leaving the EU, as he had expected, it came down to an incomprehensible ‘erotic spasm’. The blunder – rather than the serious content of the speech – got all the media attention. Smith’s concerns about her husband’s secrecy and her burning desire that he relinquish leadership become more evident and stark as the weeks go by.
At one point, she is annoyed that he is canceling a short vacation that she thinks would have done her good. “V is concerned about his non-appearance on the news. I point out that Corbyn’s coverage is almost entirely negative and May isn’t much better, so I wish he could be off for a week. His reaction is to forego the short break we have planned in Dorset and hang around hoping for TV and radio, which pains me and makes no sense.
After the conference blunder, Smith wrote, “Hopefully V will be out of management by next summer, making a long journey possible.”
When the coalition came together in 2010, Cable was reluctant to team up with Eurosceptic Tories determined to impose massive cuts to departmental budgets.
But he accepts that Nick Clegg really had no choice but to work with David Cameron and George Osborne, despite the damage the coalition was to do to his own party.
After the coalition and the Brexit referendum that led to Cameron’s resignation, Cable had little sympathy. “I had no reason to lament Cameron, who, behind a charming veneer, had utterly flouted the Lib Dems, and I and had now, through incompetence and complacency, trashed the 40-year legacy of European co-operation by his Tory predecessors and workers. .”
In an interview with the Observer of the book, Cable said he considered writing a memoir after the 2015 general election, which saw the Lib Dems virtually wiped out. “It was an option to settle scores with my conservative colleagues,” he says. “But that would probably have been considered vindictive.”
Over time, however, he grew increasingly frustrated that his party was being ‘thrown out of history’ by both the Tories and Labour, and he wanted to defend the Liberal Democrats’ record in government. .
“The airbrushing of history made me more and more angry because of the things we achieved and the things we stopped happening,” he says, citing the stalling of many Tory plans to to restrict the rights of workers as the main one among them.
Asked if the Liberal Democrats could join another coalition with the Conservatives after the next election, Cable is adamant. “Under the current circumstances or something like the current circumstances, it’s inconceivable.”
As for working with Labour, that, he says, is much more likely, but even with Labor the lessons of the experience from 2010 to 2015 will have to be learned. He doubts this is a formal arrangement in which the Lib Dems hold ministerial posts. “I don’t think it would be an explicit coalition because of the experience we had last time around.”