Vince Cable rallies to Nick Clegg's defence as Lib Dems fight off calls for change

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Senior Liberal Democrats rallied around Nick Clegg yesterday amid further calls for him to stand down as party leader before the next general election.

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary and the man seen as most likely to succeed Mr Clegg, said: "I don't give any time to these personal criticisms of Nick Clegg which are being made at the moment." He told BBC Radio 4 that grassroots criticism was inevitable in a par liamentary mid-term when difficult decisions were being made.

"He's sufficiently resilient to ride through this, I think," he said.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Lib Dem leader, insisted that Mr Clegg was "in charge of his party" and hit back at Lord Oakeshott, a close ally of Mr Cable, pictured, who suggested last week that the party should consider a change of management. Sir Menzies said the leader's critics should "should get out of the cloistered comfort of the House of Lords and perhaps the seduction of the [television] studio."

Some MPs thought Mr Cable could have been more effusive in his support for Mr Clegg. But allies of the Deputy Prime Minister professed themselves happy enough and do not suspect the Business Secretary of plotting against him.

However, there is a danger that the continuing speculation about Mr Clegg's position will become a major focus at the party's autumn conference later this month.

Adrian Sanders, the MP for Torbay, said Mr Clegg had to stop "bumbling along worrying about the future".

Lord Smith of Clifton, a Lib Dem peer, said Mr Clegg was not indispensable. "He is just a cork bobbing on the waves and has no strategic vision at all," he said. "We have no idea what we're going to do in the next two years other than try and survive and that is not a good enough tactic."

Andrew Bridgwater, the vice-chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Lib Dems, told The Independent on Sunday: "The sooner Nick resigns and creates a vacancy for Vince, the better. To put it bluntly, I would encourage Vince to stand for the leadership to take us into the next election... Is Nick Clegg going to lead us to success at the next election? Absolutely not."

Clegg allies insist the sniping is coming from long-established critics and believe the vast majority of party activists will support him at the Brighton conference. Some Lib Dem MPs who are remaining loyal for now admit that the leadership question may become "a live issue" ahead of the 2015 election, but say they doubt that there will be a formal attempt to oust Mr Clegg.