Sir Vince Cable has insisted he is a “plausible” candidate to be prime minister, as he attends his first party conference as Liberal Democrat leader.
Sir Vince is using the gathering in Bournemouth to position the Lib Dems firmly as the voice of Remain voters who reject the possibility of a soft Brexit.
He took over the party in July after a disappointing result at the General Election, where the party campaigned on an anti-Brexit platform but failed to capitalise on disappointed Remain voters.
He leads a group of just 12 MPs, and said his job is to build numbers up again – but insists his party can provide a “moderate, common-sense alternative” amid the turmoil of British politics.
“As leader of the third UK party, my job is to be the alternative prime minister,” he told The Andrew Marr Show.
“I think British politics is in a remarkable state of flux,” he said.
“You’ve got the Conservative Party now in a state of complete civil war, the Labour Party in a state of suppressed civil war, and that will break out again once they start deselecting moderate people”,
“And I think people will look for a moderate, sort of common sense alternative and that’s what we are for.”
Sir Vince, a former business secretary, said it is “perfectly plausible” he could replace Theresa May in Downing Street.
At 74, he is the oldest ever Lib Dem leader and the oldest head of a major party since Sir Winston Churchill, who stepped down as Tory leader aged 80.
But he has already dismissed suggestions his age might be a problem, saying he has the energy to lead the party.
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Ed Davey also talked up Sir Vince’s Number 10 ambitions.
He told Sky News: “If you put him up against Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn, I think the majority of people would rather have Vince in Number 10 because he comes with huge credibility, particularly on the economy.”
The Lib Dem conference is expected to be dominated by Brexit.
Sir Vince acknowledged public opinion had not changed much since the referendum last year, but said it would once the economic reality of withdrawal from the EU sank in.
He said voters should be offered a new vote on Brexit, saying it would be a “first referendum on the facts” once the terms of a deal with Brussels were known.