Roger Smith reviews a Wimbledon Bookfest event
Veteran Liberal Democrat politician Sir Vince Cable's popularity in south-west London seems assured, going by his ability to draw a packed crowd of more than 200 people at the Wimbledon Bookfest on a night when most of the nation seemed to be glued to the TV for the result of The Great British Bake Off.
Former Cabinet Minister Sir Vince made his appearance to promote his new book, After The Storm, which analyses the British and world economic situation since the meltdown of 2008 and offers insights into the workings of the coalition government in which he served 2010-15. James Naughtie, presenter of BBC Radio 4's Today programme, was on the platform in the big tent on Wimbledon Common to interview Sir Vince.
He started, to laughter, by respectfully asking the audience not to give anything away if they received a tweet disclosing the winner of The Great British Bake Off.
What followed was an extended, more relaxed version of a Today programme exchange running to more than an hour rather than just two or three minutes. Sir Vince, who lost his Twickenham seat to the Conservatives at the May general election, told of the shock of the scale of the Liberal Democrat defeat when they were reduced to just eight MPs.
He acknowledged that, while they had expected participation in the coalition government would cost them seats, the losses were much worse than they had imagined. He underlined his view that the electorate were driven by fear of a Labour-led coalition involving the SNP. He criticised Labour's move to the left with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader, saying it was a mistake.
He claimed the party would not persuade people who had voted Conservative who were not prepared to believe it on the economy. Sir Vince acknowledged the damage done to the Lib Dems by their broken pledge on tuition fees but defended his role as Business Secretary in saving funding for further education and adult education colleges that he said otherwise would have been cut.
Asked by Mr Naughtie if there was one thing he had achieved in government of which he was particularly proud, Sir Vince replied, to laughter, "Well, there's a list..." But he went on to cite the provision of education opportunities to people with mental health problems.
There seemed to be insufficient time for all the questions people in the audience would have liked to ask but most appeared to leave satisfied with the warm experience of the equivalent of a fireside chat with Sir Vince. It was an event that can only have boosted the reputation of the Wimbledon Bookfest, which continues at various venues until Sunday.
October 9, 2015