“The most ham-fisted attempt at a coup since Mark Thatcher.” That’s the waspish verdict of one senior Lib Dem about the putsch against the Deputy Prime Minister.
Mr Clegg may yet face a rolling campaign to topple him led by local parties. Yesterday, though, one of the key plotters, a man who considers Mr Clegg the Judas Iscariot of British politics, resigned the party in spectacular fashion.
We are commonly advised to leave our jobs on good terms. Lord Oakeshott must have missed that memo. “The party is heading for disaster under Nick Clegg,” he declared as he quit, accusing the Deputy PM of creating a “split-the-difference Centre Party...with no roots, no principles and no values”. Those words will resonate with some despairing activists.
Worse was to come for the heir to the crown, Vince Cable. The Business Secretary’s friend Lord Oakeshott, now enraged, made it quite clear that Mr Cable had known for weeks that he was amassing evidence to undermine Nick Clegg: “Several weeks ago I told Vince the results of those four polls too.” It’s the political equivalent of sluicing petrol around the room as Mr Cable pleads with him to put down the lighter.
In a pleasing inversion of the usual coup cliché - it is normally the African president who finds himself overthrown when he travels abroad - Mr Cable was forced to pledge his loyalty while on government business in Beijing. The political commentator Dan Hodges describes the Lib Dem frontbench as “beginning to resemble the warehouse at the end of Reservoir Dogs”.
Mr Clegg must decide whether to ignore any disloyalty as the routine machinations of top-level politics, or to purge. Mr Clegg will choose to ignore it. He lacks the power now in his own party to oust his deputy without causing irreparable damage to Britain’s third biggest political force. (Or is that Ukip? We’ll have to wait for the pieces to land next May.)
Judas’s actions did, of course lead to Jesus’s crucifixion, resurrection and the salvation of humanity. But that may be asking too much of Mr Clegg.Reuse content