Clegg complains as Lib Dem leadership race turns ugly
The Liberal Democrat leadership contender Nick Clegg made a complaint to the party's chief whip last night against his rival Chris Huhne, accusing him of backing a dossier entitled "Calamity Clegg". The document, a background briefing with quotations from Mr Clegg on public services reform and proportional representation, should not have carried the Calamity tag, Mr Huhne's team said last night in an effort to defuse the row.
The formal complaint followed an earlier clash between the two men on live television, in which Mr Clegg confronted his opponent on BBC1's The Politics Show with a copy of the document, compiled by Mr Huhne's campaign team.
They exchanged a series of hostile allegations and counter allegations as the contest, relatively good natured up to now, turned sour.
Mr Huhne, 54, insisted he had never seen the document and went on to launch his own attack in which he accused Mr Clegg of "flip-flopping" on policies such as Trident and school vouchers.
Mr Huhne, the MP for Eastleigh and the party's environment spokesman said: "I don't support describing anybody a 'calamity', that's absolute nonsense, but I do think we've had a series of flip-flops on this issue from Nick."
Mr Clegg 40, the MP for Sheffield Hallam and the party's home affairs spokes-man, said: "With respect, Chris, this contest is not about me meeting false challenges that you put up to me. It's about me saying what I think the Liberal Democrats need to do to the country, for the country, to make Britain a more liberal place.
"I think there is a danger in an internal contest ... of saying things to each other which, let's remember, our opponents will use against whichever of us becomes leader. So I refrain from that."
The leadership election's returning officer, Lord Rennard, is to investigate the complaint about the dossier. A Liberal Democrat spokeswoman said the peer would be looking into the matter "in due course" and that senior party officials would meet today to decide whether to take further action.
Last night, Mr Huhne's campaign team apologised for the "wholly inappropriate" title of their briefing document about Mr Clegg, but said their candidate had not signed it off.
The campaign manager Anna Werrin said: "On behalf of Chris Huhne's campaign, I sincerely apologise that a background briefing document of quotations from Nick Clegg on public services reform and proportional representation was sent out with a wholly inappropriate title.
"There is no excuse for this. The document title had not been approved before the document was sent out and neither Chris nor I were aware of it. In no way does the title of the document as sent to The Politics Show represent Chris Huhne's opinion and he completely dissociates himself from it."
Mr Huhne now wants to put the document into the public domain under a different title.
Mr Clegg's lead in the race was bolstered yesterday as two more MPs backed his bid. Their announcement took his support in the Commons to 36, well over half of the 63 Liberal Democrat MPs.
The contest will be decided by a ballot of up to 70,000 Liberal Democrat members. The result will be declared on 17 December.
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