European elections 2014: Nick Clegg faces fight for survival after Lib Dems' Euro disaster

Local Liberal Democrat party activists begin calling emergency meetings to force leadership contest as triumphant Nigel Farage predicts Ukip will hold balance of power at next year’s general election

Nick Clegg failed to quell a grassroots revolt by Liberal Democrat activists on Monday night as they stepped up an attempt to oust him following the party’s disastrous performance in the European elections.

After the Deputy Prime Minister refused to fall on his sword, The Independent learnt that activists had begun to call emergency meetings of local parties across the country in order to force a leadership election. They require the backing of 75 parties to trigger a contest.

The other way to open a battle over who should head the party is for a majority of the Lib Dems’ 56 MPs to support such a move. For now, most MPs are remaining publicly loyal to Mr Clegg or keeping their heads down, but some may call on him to quit in the next few days.

While an exhausted-looking Liberal Democrat leader clung on, his arch-opponent Nigel Farage celebrated a remarkable victory in the European  elections. His party came top with 27.5 per cent of the vote – the first time a party other than Labour or the Conservatives have won a nation-wide election in over 100 years.

 

Flanked by Ukip’s 24 MEPs at a Westminster hotel, Mr Farage told journalists: “If any of you think you have seen the high-water mark of Ukip you ain’t seen nothing yet.” He predicted that Ukip could hold the balance of power in another hung Parliament after next year’s general election.

Before the Euro elections, such a claim would have been laughed off by the three main parties. But none of them could afford to scoff at it now. While they hope the Ukip bubble will burst, they cannot be sure it will.

Mr Clegg admitted his decision to go head-to-head with the anti-EU party had backfired after his party lost 11 of its 12 MEPs and came a humiliating fifth behind the Greens.

Insisting that resignation had not “crossed his mind”, he urged his party to hold its nerve at a time when the tough decisions taken by the Coalition were finally paying off.

But grassroots activists accused the Lib Dem leader of being “in denial”. Critics seized on ICM opinion polls in four constituencies suggesting that the Lib Dems would do better with another leader. One found that Mr Clegg is currently in third place in his Sheffield Hallam seat.

Special constituency meetings are being planned in Cambridge, Liverpool, Winchester, Luton and Hackney and Bermondsey in London.

More than 340 members have now signed an e-petition calling on Mr Clegg to stand down. Crucially, they come from 150 different local parties. So if half their parties are persuaded to move against the leader, there will be an election.

Read more: French VF victory based on anguish, rage and denial
Cameron to use Ukip victory as warning for Brussels
Ukip sets target of 20 seats for 2015
Labour MPs call on Miliband to promise referendum
Calls for Lib Dem unity after calls for Clegg to go
Conservatives bid to ward off Ukip threat
Ukip top poll as Europe moves to right
Far-right parties flourish across Europe

Kevin White, chairman of Liverpool Liberal Democrats, said: “I believe that Nick Clegg’s response to these elections is arrogant and disrespectful to all those people who have lost their seats.

“If he cared about the party he would go and go now. If he doesn’t, I will ask the Liverpool local party to sign the call for a leadership election.”

Naomi Smith, co-chair of the Social Liberal Forum pressure group, said: “The voters have given us a very clear message that is time for a fresh start for the Lib Dems. It is time for a new leader who can get a fairer hearing.”

John Pugh, MP for Southport, called the Euro results “abysmal” and “worrying”, adding: “To call for business as usual is ludicrous.” He said Mr Clegg should hand over to Vince Cable, the Business Secretary.

But Mr Cable, who is on a trade visit to China, refused to join the revolt. He admitted the results were “exceptionally disappointing”, but said: “There is no leadership issue. We have undoubtedly taken a kicking for being in government with the Conservatives and having to take some extremely tough decisions in the national interest. But now is not the time for infighting and introspection. The party must hold its nerve.”

Mr Farage set Ukip’s sights on winning next week’s Newark parliamentary by-election and listed many of the seats the party will target at the general election.

“Who knows – if Ukip hold the balance of power, then there will be a referendum [on leaving the EU],” he said.

Ukip’s targets will include Thanet South, Folkestone and Hythe, Great Grimsby, Boston, Yarmouth, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Aylesbury, Rotherham, Eastleigh and parts of Cambridgeshire.

The Ukip leader said he was about to appoint a series of new spokesmen and women in a move to shed the party’s “one-man band” image and announced work was already under way on its general election manifesto. Its policy platform would be launched this autumn at the party’s conference in Doncaster, where Ed Miliband is an MP.

Mr Farage dismissed suggestions that his party had been buoyed up by a temporary protest vote. He said: “The people’s army of Ukip are on their way to Newark. We are going to give it our best shot.”

The Ukip leader said its challenge, in a constituency where the party came a distant fourth at the last election, was the equivalent of climbing Everest, but insisted: “We are going to do our damnedest to try to pull off an even more spectacular result.”

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn