U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said there’s no “great conspiracy” involving Business Secretary Vince Cable over polling aimed at pushing Clegg out of his job as Liberal Democrat party leader.
Cable said yesterday he’d been aware an old friend, Matthew Oakeshott, conducted the polls, while denying he was involved in commissioning them. The surveys, leaked to the Guardian newspaper, suggested the party’s chances in next year’s general election might be better if Cable took over from Clegg. The deputy premier’s future was called into question after Liberal Democrat losses in last week’s European and local elections.
In a phone-in on LBC radio today, Clegg said Cable, whom he spoke to last night, “explained to me what he said in public” and that, while he knew about polling in his own constituency in London, he “was completely unaware of polling done elsewhere” in the country.
“People are trying to whip this up into some great conspiracy,” Clegg said. “We are going to continue to work together in harness as a very strong Lib Dem team in government, full stop.”
Oakeshott quit the party yesterday and said he’ll take leave from being an unelected lawmaker in the upper House of Lords after Cable named him as the man behind the polls and rebuked him for leaking them. In his resignation statement, Oakeshott said the business secretary had known for several weeks about the polling.
“I was aware that he was conducting other polls around the country and I was certainly told in general terms what the trends were,” Cable said in a pooled television interview from China, where he’s on an official visit. “We’re longstanding friends, going back actually 40 years. I very much regret that we’ve finished up in this way.”
The polls indicated Clegg and three other Liberal Democrats were on course to lose their seats in 2015, though support would generally rise if Cable was party leader. After their publication, Cable described Oakeshott’s actions as “utterly reprehensible.”
Asked yesterday why he hadn’t revealed he’d known about the polling, Cable denied he’d been evasive.
“I’m the other side of the world,” he said. “With a seven-hour time delay, and answering questions as they are put to me about a perfectly straightforward statement. I’ve been asked for more details today and I’m giving them to you.”
He said he hadn’t known about two of five local polls Oakeshott commissioned, contradicting Oakeshott’s statement that he’d told Cable about four.
“I am sure the party is heading for disaster if it keeps Nick Clegg,” Oakeshott said yesterday, adding that party activists want a leadership election.
“I have tried to give them the evidence they need to make the change,” he said. “I pray that they win, and that the right man, or preferably woman, is now elected to save the party.”
Two days ago, Clegg rejected suggestions he should quit, saying he wouldn’t “walk away” a year before the general election.
The Liberal Democrats lost all but one of their European Parliament lawmakers last week, finishing in fifth place in the polling behind the Greens.
Cable reiterated support for Clegg today.
“To be absolutely clear, I’m supporting the party leader,” he told the BBC. “We have a united team.”
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at email@example.com Eddie Buckle, Andrew Atkinson