Nick Clegg said this morning that ‘appropriate steps’ will be taken to deal with Lord Oakeshott after the peer was outed as the ‘Lib Dem supporter’ who had commissioned uncomfortable polling about the Lib Dems’ chances in 2015. As with other difficult situations with Lib Dem peers, though, Clegg doesn’t have that much power to remove the whip from Oakeshott, even if he’d like to. Speaking after his speech on international development the Deputy Prime Minister said:
‘I think it is wholly unacceptable for people in a campaigning political party facing very very difficult elections last week as we were to find out now with hindsight that a senior member of the party far from actually going out and trying to win votes was spending money and time seeking to undermine the fortunes of the party and obviously parliament will resume next week and a lot of these things will be taken up then and discussed in the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and following those discussions, you know, appropriate steps will no doubt be taken.’
What matters more than whether Oakeshott is disciplined by peers, though, is whether his actions have taken all the steam out of the revolt against Clegg. That revolt wasn’t as big as its agitators had hoped, according to LibDemVoice’s poll. Those who had crossed over to the anti-Nick camp in the past few days are livid with the peer, though, as they feel his botch job has made it much more difficult for them to get a hearing from the leadership. There are two groups within the anti-Nick camp: those who have long wanted his head, such as Naomi Smith (more on that from Charlotte Henry here), and those who are disappointed with the way the local and European elections worked out but furious with the way the leadership responded by suggesting that seats with a sitting Lib Dem MP had performed well (they point to Southwark and Brent as signs of this being bunkum). The second group worries that the leadership may now be a little more complacent at responding to them. They could, though, be brought back into the fold with a bit of TLC from Clegg and Co, so the last thing he should do today is believe that Oakeshott’s unmasking represents the unravelling of the whole row.
I also understand that local parties are continuing to go ahead with executive meetings to discuss whether they should hold membership meetings that will call for a leadership contest. It will be interesting to see whether Vince Cable’s second intervention on behalf of Nick Clegg destroys the appetite of those local party members for a contest.
UPDATE, 12.10: Lord Oakeshott is to resign from the Liberal Democrats and take a leave of absence from the House of Lords.
Here is his full statement:
I am today taking leave of absence from the House of Lords and resigning as a member of the Liberal Democrats. I am sure the Party is heading for disaster if it keeps Nick Clegg; and I must not get in the way of the many brave Liberal Democrats fighting for change.
I leave, with a heavy heart, the party I helped to found with such high hopes with Roy Jenkins, Bill Rodgers, Shirley Williams and David Owen at Limehouse in 1981. We then, like most Liberal Democrats now, wanted a radical progressive party, not a “split the difference” Centre Party, with, in Shirley’s memorable words, no roots, no principles and no values. But that is where Nick Clegg has led us.
I am sorry I have so upset and embarrassed my old friend Vince Cable and that we were not able to talk before he issued yesterday’s statement from China. This is the background:
Several months ago a close colleague, concerned about voting intentions in Twickenham, asked me if I would arrange and pay for a poll to show us Vince’s current position and how best to get him re-elected. I was happy to help, and Vince amended and approved the questionnaire, but at his request I excluded a question on voting intentions with a change of leader. Although Vince had excellent ratings, both as a Minister and a local MP, he was slightly behind the Conservatives in this poll, as the full details on the ICM website show. That poll worried me so much that I commissioned four more in different types of constituency all over the country and added back the change of leadership question. The results were in the Guardian yesterday and on the ICM website. Several weeks ago, I told Vince the results of those four polls too.
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 M.P.s their best chance to win in 2015. On Thursday I also commissioned one more ICM poll, in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey; the results should also be on the ICM website tonight at and http://www.icmresearch.com/data/media/pdf/2014_twick.pdf
A few stout-hearted MPs and peers and hundreds, maybe soon thousands, of candidates, councillors and Lib Dem members all over Britain are now fighting constituency by constituency for a leadership election. I have tried to give them the evidence they need to make the change. I pray that they win, and that the right man, or preferably, woman is now elected to save the Party.
When Charles Kennedy rang to make me a peer, from a panel elected by the party, fourteen years ago he said he wanted me to shake up the Lords. I’ve tried – my bills to ban non-dom peers are now law – but my efforts to expose and end cash for peerages in all parties, including our own, and help get the Lords elected have failed. I am very sorry to leave my many old, close comrades-in-arms on the Liberal Democrat benches all over Britain, and good friends and fellow campaigners across the House. But the unreformed Lords is now a bloated balloon and at 67 it’s time to concentrate on running my business and my charity.