The Liberal Democrats should consider ousting Nick Clegg as leader ahead of the next general election, a senior party figure said yesterday.
Lord Oakeshott, a close ally of the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, called for the "strategy and management" of the party to be reviewed in order to head off a bloodbath at the 2015 election. He said: "Elections are not just about the message. They are also about the messenger."
Clegg allies accused Lord Oakeshott of disloyalty. Although he is an outspoken critic of the leadership, his criticism was a setback for Mr Clegg, who tried to calm his party's jitters this week by proposing a temporary wealth tax on the rich.
There is no organised plot to oust the Liberal Democrat leader. But his critics believe his position will be discussed in the margins of the party's autumn conference in Brighton next month. They say he could come under pressure to promise to stand down before the general election if the Liberal Democrats suffer another rout at next May's local elections. Lord Oakeshott told BBC Radio 4 that progressive policies were needed to win back tactical voters who had backed the Liberal Democrats to stop Conservatives winning key marginal seats.
He said 39 Liberal Democrat MPs defending seats where Tories were runners-up last time would struggle to hold on in 2015 unless Labour supporters backed them again.
"We have lost over half our market share, if you like to put it that way if we had been Sainsbury's, since the election and any business that had done that would be looking very hard now at both its strategy and its management to see how we get some of that back, because otherwise we are going to lose a large number of seats at the next election," he said.
Lord Oakeshott added that the challenge was "not just to put the message across but to get it implemented in government" – an implicit call for Mr Clegg to fight harder for Liberal Democrat ideas inside the Government. He believed voters were not against a coalition, but did not like the Liberal Democrats being in coalition with the Conservatives.
Mr Cable, who insists that at the age of 69 he is not too old to lead his party, has kept lines open to Labour.
Only 47 per cent of Lib Dem members believe Nick Clegg should still be both Deputy Prime Minister and party leader in 2015, according to a survey by the Liberal Democrat Voice website last month.
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