THE LIBERAL Democrat party was in turmoil last night as questions were raised over how much business secretary Vince Cable knew about leaked polling that appeared designed to oust leader Nick Clegg.
The polls, commissioned by Lord Oakeshott, revealed that both Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander could stand to lose their Sheffield Hallam and Inverness seats in the general election in May next year.
In the wake of the revelation, Cable denied any knowledge of the research conducted by his close friend and political ally.
But in his lengthy resignation statement yesterday, co-founder of the party Oakeshott accused the business secretary of knowing about the research weeks ago, even suggesting a change to the proposed questions, removing one about voting intentions if Nick Clegg was no longer at the helm.
“I am sure the party is heading for disaster if it keeps Nick Clegg,” Oakeshott wrote, adding that he was “sorry I have so upset and embarrassed my old friend Vince Cable.”
Denying the claims in his own statement last night Cable said: “I was aware that he was conducting other polls around the country and I was certainly told in general terms what the trends were … but I had absolutely no knowldege of, or certainly was not involved in any commissioning of the surveys that were done in Sheffield Hallam and Inverness, and indeed I criticised him [Oakeshott] very severely.” Cable said he regretted the fact that Oakeshott felt the need to quit the party and added that he hoped the pord would reconsider his decision.
A senior Lib Dem source dismissed talk of continued attacks against Clegg last night, calling the failed plot “the most ham-fisted attempt I’ve seen at a coup since Mark Thatcher. And it’s been four years in the making.” The source continued: “The idea that this increases the pressure is ridiculous – it does exactly the opposite,” adding that Oakeshott is not well-liked within the party and that the potential coup had nothing to do with Vince Cable.
“This is a lancing of the boil – Oakeshott has long been a malign figure in the party, pursuing his own malicious agenda, rather than doing anything for the benefit of the party.
“Nowhere was this truer than him lavishing tens of thousands of pounds on slanted, private polling, instead of helping friends and colleagues get elected,” the source added.