28 May 2014

Lib Dems in crisis as peer quits and says Clegg should go

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott resigns from the party “with a heavy heart”, saying “it is heading for disaster if it keeps Nick Clegg”.

Video: Political Correspondent Michael Crick reports

Pulling no punches, the peer – who has been a member since the party’s inception in 1981 – said in his resignation statement that under Nick Clegg the Lib Dems have become a party with “no roots, no principles and no values.”

Matthew Oakeshott’s resignation came after he was told he would be facing disciplinary action for leaking a poll suggesting that Nick Clegg could lose his Commons seat in the election.

Mr Clegg described Lord Oakeshott’s actions as “totally unacceptable” and, more damagingly, his close friend the Business Secretary Vince Cable also joined the criticism, describing Lord Oakeshott’s behaviour as “inexcusable and unacceptable,” adding: “I have made it very clear repeatedly that he does not speak or act for me.”

the information that was released to press, and indeed commissioned, about Sheffield Hallam and Inverness was damaging. I knew absolutely nothing about that and wasn’t involved in any way Business Secretary Vince Cable

Lord Oakeshott was believed to be angling for Mr Cable to take over as Lib Dem leader, a rumour Mr Cable moved to quash, saying: “I [have] made it absolutely clear there is no leadership issue as far as I’m concerned.”

Controversial polling

Reacting to the ICM poll suggesting that Mr Clegg would lose his Sheffield Hallam seat in the next general election, the Lib Dems initially said they “had no idea where it came from, but it had clearly been comissioned and leaked for political purposes”.

When it became apparent that Lord Oakeshott had paid for ICM to carry out polling in five Lib Dem constituencies, he was roundly condemned by senior party figures. Former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell said he should “examine his conscience”, adding: “Attempted destabilisation like this amounts to serious disloyalty.”

In his resignation statement, Lord Oakeshott stated that Vince Cable knew about the polling weeks ago, something that Mr Cable denied.

Speaking in China on Wednesday, where he is on a government trip, the business secretary told Channel 4 News: “the information that was released to the press, and indeed commissioned, about Sheffield Hallam and Inverness was damaging. I knew absolutely nothing about that and wasn’t involved in any way.”

Private poll

Mr Cable said that he had agreed to a private poll on voting intentions in his own Twickenham constituency ahead of the election, for the purposes of election planning.

According to Lord Oakeshott, Mr Cable removed a question about whether voters would be more likely to vote Lib Dem if the party had a different leader in that first poll.

But Lord Oakeshott says “that poll worried me so much that I commissioned four more in different types of consituency all over the country and added back the change of leadership question.”

He concludes: “The combined message of these five professional and reputable ICM constituency polls, Nick Clegg’s dire approval ratings year after year in all national polls, and Thursday’s appalling council and European election results is crystal clear: we must change the leader to give Liberal Democrat MPs their best chance to win in 2015.”

He revealed that he had commissioned a further ICM poll in Danny Alexander’s constituency of Inverness, Nairn Badenoch and Strathspey, which found that Mr Alexander is also set to lose his seat to the SNP.

The Lib Dems questioned the methodology of the polls, saying last week’s election results indicated the party’s support was holding up in areas where they had MPs.

Lord Oakeshott, who has resigned from the Lib Dems