The former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown turned on Vince Cable today – suggesting he may have known more about a “plot of deep malice” to topple Nick Clegg than he has so far admitted.
With Mr Cable due to arrive back in Britain from a business trip to China late last night, Lord Ashdown used an interview to imply that the Business Secretary knew of his friend Lord Oakeshott’s plans for a leadership coup.
Asked directly if he thought Mr Cable was involved in the plot, Lord Ashdown replied: “He says not; Nick says he wasn’t.” He then referred to Shakespeare’s Othello and offered some advice to the Business Secretary. “One of the rules of politics is: choose your Iagos carefully,” he said.
Lord Ashdown also revealed that he had used crude terms to warn Lord Oakeshott not to engage in any plotting in advance of the local and European elections.
He said he told him: “‘Matthew, you are famous for making difficult days for the party more difficult. If you do that again after 23 May I will first of all remove your head and then your testicles.’
“[Lord Oakeshott] dashed off to the press and said, ‘Paddy Ashdown’s being nasty to me, he’s a member of the special forces, maybe he can really do this.’ He said, ‘I’m terribly shocked’, and my answer to that is ‘Ah, diddums’.”
Lord Oakeshott – a close friend of Mr Cable – resigned from the party last week after admitting he had commissioned research on how it would fare under a different leader. In a parting shot, he warned that the Lib Dems were heading for “disaster” with the Deputy Prime Minister in charge.
Mr Ashdown said the failed coup had “made a bad situation worse”. “We now know there has been a plot of deep malice to try and remove the leader.
“I have a very clear message for the party, and that is: ‘Anything you do now which is not getting out on the streets campaigning in the context of the next general election – which is where we can put our proposition as to how we have behaved in government behind a fine leader, and a fine record – is a distraction, and a dangerous distraction.”