Nick Clegg: 'I don't believe for second' that Vince Cable plotted against me

Deputy PM said he would 'absolutely not' sack the Business Secretary

Whitehall Editor

Nick Clegg today insisted that he did not believe “for a second” that Vince Cable was involved in a botched attempt to oust him as Liberal Democrat leader.

In an attempt dampen down damaging speculation that the Business Secretary was aware of secret plotting to replace him the Deputy Prime Minister insisted that he had full confidence in his colleague.

He said he did not believe he was aware of damaging polls commissioned by the former Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott – or knew that they would be "leaked" to undermine him.

“I fully expect that people will try and suggest that there are endless plots and conspiracies,” he said.

“I don't believe that for a second. Vince is an outstanding Secretary of State for Business. He and I have worked together for years and years and years and we are going to continue to work together in harness as part of a really strong Lib Dem team in government. Full stop.”

Mr Clegg added he would “absolutely not” sack Mr Cable in the wake of the botched coup launched by the Business Secretary's close friend Lord Oakeshott.

The peer, a long-time critic of the Deputy Prime Minister, commissioned a series of polls that indicated the party's general election performance would improve if Mr Clegg resigned.

Mr Cable was forced to issue statements about his knowledge and involvement in the polling while on a trade mission to Chinese capital Beijing, insisting he had "absolutely no knowledge of" surveys that were done in Sheffield Hallam and Inverness - the constituencies of the Lib Dem leader and Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

The peer quit the party yesterday, lashing out at the "disastrous" Deputy Prime Minister and saying he left the party with a "heavy heart".

Mr Cable told the BBC in China today that he wanted to make it "absolutely clear" he was backing Mr Clegg.

He said: “People are putting round the story that there is some division on that. There is not. I made it absolutely clear from the beginning of this week that there is absolutely no leadership issue.

“We have a united team. We have clearly got to recover from the very difficult election and I'm part of that team and will be supporting the leader."

Asked whether he had behaved disloyally by not telling Mr Clegg the secret polls were being carried out, he replied: "There was no disloyalty whatever. There were some polls being carried out, lots of polls carried out in the party and in other parties.

“It is part of professional politics, finding out what is going on. I had a poll in my own constituency, related entirely to my local election campaign... There were others, which I have condemned, which took place, as I understand it, in Sheffield and Inverness.

“I knew nothing about those, they were quite wrong to do it in a way that put information into the public to damage colleagues. I have made a distinction between that and the information-gathering in the polls which is part of professional politics.”

Liberal Democrat Sir Graham Watson, who lost his seat in the European Parliament in last Thursday's near wipe-out, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he had no reason to disbelieve Dr Cable when he said he was not aware the polls were being conducted in Mr Clegg and Danny Alexander's constituencies.

“Vince also said very clearly that there is no leadership issue as far as he is concerned. That really puts the matter to bed,” he continued.

But he also said that it was possible to be as “treacherous” by failing to stop something as by being part of it.

Asked whether Dr Cable should have advised his friend Lord Oakeshott not to do it, Sir Graham replied: "Of course it's the case that sometimes we can be as treacherous by our failure to stop something as we can by our being involved, but Vince Cable is doing an incredibly taxing and busy job.

“Nobody believes he is trying to undermine Nick. The people who are trying to sow dissension in the Liberal Democrat ranks are the blue-top newspapers.

“Maybe he should have said to Matthew Oakeshott very early on, 'this is not a good idea, don't do it'... Clearly he didn't.”

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