In a bid to cement his party’s support among the young Remain voters of Generation Rent, Mr Cable promised to crack down on “oligarchs and speculators in our housing market” and explore replacing tuition fees with a graduate tax.
In his first conference address, the new Lib Dem leader sought to reclaim his party’s legacy in power, highlighting his experience in cabinet and claiming he would be a “credible Prime Minister”.
With his party yet to recover from an electoral drubbing after going into coalition with the Conservatives, he set the target of achieving the 23% share of the vote they won in 2010.
Mr Cable praised his predecessor Tim Farron for giving the Lib Dems “a clear identity as the only real, undiluted pro-European party,” but told party activists they had to confront crises in housing, the environment and economic inequality to have a hope of regaining power.
He said Lib Dems would seek to “unite a very divided country” after campaigning for a “vote on the facts” of the UK’s Brexit settlement that will offer the chance of staying in the EU on existing terms.
“I want our party to lead the fight against Brexit,” he said, “but we should not be consumed by Brexit to the exclusion of everything else. We are not a single-issue party. We’re not UKIP in reverse.”
After just two months as leader and ten weeks since regaining his seat in parliament, the speech was light on policy detail, but Mr Cable said the Lib Dems would “once again become a workshop for new ideas”.
He promised “fierce tax penalties” on overseas investors blamed for snapping up new housing developments and driving up property prices in London and across the UK.
“We must end the stranglehold of oligarchs and speculators in our housing market,” Mr Cable said. “I want to see fierce tax penalties on the acquisition of property for investment purposes, by overseas residents.
“And I want to see rural communities protected from the blight of absentee second home ownership, which devastates local economies and pushes young people away from the places where they grew up.
“Homes are to live in; they’re not pieces on a Monopoly board.”
In the past few years, cities around the world have experimented with additional taxes on sales of property to foreign investors reaching as high as 15%. In Scotland, land reform campaigners have raised the number of Highland estates held by wealthy foreign owners, and there are also concerns over the impact of second home ownership driving up prices in Edinburgh’s New Town.
Highlighting his five years as business secretary in the coalition government, Mr Cable told activists to be proud of the party’s achievements but admitted the Lib Dems “still have to scrub ourselves hard to get rid of the smell of clearing up other people’s mess”.
He reminded voters that Lib Dems had stood against what he called “three great disasters perpetrated by the two main parties” - the war in Iraq, the banking crisis and Brexit.
And he compared his own recovery following the death of his first wife Olympia in 2001 from cancer to his party’s recovery. “In time, I recovered and I found a new partnership with Rachel,” he said. “She has sustained and supported me ever since.”
“Her energy and dedication to me is the source of my energy and dedication to this party. And politics has proved an even greater waiting game than life.”