Lib Dem coup: Vince Cable allies accused of plotting to bring down Nick Clegg

Lib Dem peer accused of leaking results of anti-Clegg poll

Supporters of Vince Cable were today accused of orchestrating a concerted campaign to undermine Nick Clegg as Liberal Democrat leader.

Party sources named the businessman and Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott as being behind an opinion poll, released this morning, which suggested the Lib Dems would do better at the general election if they get rid of Mr Clegg.

Lord Oakeshott has been a close friend of Mr Cable for many years and has made no secret of his desire to see the Business Secretary succeed Mr Clegg.

He has previously told friends that a poor performance by the party in this year’s European and local elections was the best chance to remove Mr Clegg before 2015.

This morning, the Guardian published an ICM opinion poll of marginal seats suggesting that the Lib Dems would do better under Mr Cable’s leadership.

 

The Independent understands that the poll was commissioned by Lord Oakeshott. The polling was carried out between April and 4 May - suggesting that the results were deliberately held back to inflict maximum damage on Mr Clegg’s leadership.

A Lib Dem source said: “There are not many people in the Liberal Democrats who are rich enough to conduct private polling and yet cheap enough to do it with such a pathetically small sample size. Matthew Oakeshott is both of those things.”

Sean Kemp, a former Downing Street adviser to Mr Clegg, said Lord Oakeshott’s behind-the-scenes spinning was an “open secret” in Lib Dem circles.

Lord Oakeshott has been a regular critic of Nick Clegg Lord Oakeshott has been a regular critic of Nick Clegg

He said: “If you are trying to build up support among MPs for your mate Vince Cable to become leader of the party, it doesn’t make MPs more disposed to your guy by handing out a story that says they are going to lose their seats.

“It’s an amazing thing to do to pay out of your own pocket to harm the chances of people who are meant to be your party colleagues.”

A Lib Dem MP, who declined to be named, added: “Matthew is trying to live out his political fantasies vicariously through Vince.

“He has no regard for the party, no respect for the councillors and activists out there fighting for votes, and no awareness of how damaging this is for Vince. The £15,000 or £20,000 he spent on polling could have got Graham Watson over the line in the South West.”

The Lib Dem row over the polling comes as Mr Clegg faces calls for his resignation over the party’s dismal performance in the European elections, where the Lib Dems were beaten by the Greens and lost all but one of their MEPs.

Vince Cable is a popular figure among Lib Dems Vince Cable is a popular figure among Lib Dems Some Lib Dem MPs and candidates believe the party needs to remove Mr Clegg to improve its chances in next year’s general election. There is no suggestion that Mr Cable was aware of the poll in advance of its publication.

The polls suggest that Mr Clegg could lose his own seat of Sheffield Hallam and that several other Lib Dems will also lose by wide margins. If Mr Cable were Lib Dem leader, the Lib Dem results would be better, the polls show.

But party sources criticised the way the polling was carried out. They pointed out that that sample size was “ridiculously small" with a 6 per cent margin of error.

They added that the voting intention question appeared deliberately designed to put the Liberal Democrats in worst light while in Nick Clegg’s constituency Sheffield Hallam ICM over-sampled Labour voters by 5.8 per cent and under-sampled Lib Dem voters by 9.9 per cent.

Lord Oakeshott, a City fund manager, has been a persistent critic of Mr Clegg’s leadership. He was not immediately available for comment.

ICM is a member of the British Polling Council, an industry body whose members are committed to full disclosure around their polling work.

The council rules state: “All data and research findings made on the basis of surveys conducted in the United Kingdom by member organisations that enter the public domain, must include reference to the following: Client commissioning the survey.”

The company published all the data behind the polls today, but only identified the client as “a member of the Liberal Democrats”.

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