Lib Dems: Nick Clegg rejects Oakeshott's election warning

Lord Oakeshott Lord Oakeshott is a long-standing critic of the Lib Dem leader

Nick Clegg has brushed off a suggestion by a leading internal critic that the Lib Dems should consider ditching him as leader to avert electoral disaster.

Lord Oakeshott, an ally of Vince Cable, said Mr Clegg's personal ratings were "very poor" and the party had to break with the Tories as soon as possible.

Mr Clegg said the peer always attacked him "at this time of year" and his leadership was not under threat.

The party is gathering in Glasgow for its annual conference.

Mr Oakeshott was also slapped down by Mr Cable, who described the peer's intervention as "seriously unhelpful".

The business secretary told the Telegraph: "Matthew is an independent minded member of the House of Lords, with his own views. He does not speak for me."

Senior Lib Dem minister and Clegg ally David Laws this week insisted the coalition would continue "up to the wire" before the 2015 election.

But Lord Oakeshott warned this could spell electoral ruin for the party and it should split from the Conservatives as early as next May to convince voters it had a clear policy agenda of its own.

'Disastrous'

He told The House magazine: "We need to face facts, there's quite a lot of complacency going on and self-delusion going on. We are likely to lose seats."

Lord Oakeshott, who has backed business secretary Vince Cable as the party's next leader, said the Lib Dems had to "disengage" with the coalition "well before the next election, sixth months to a year before".

Start Quote

Let's be objective; we have to accept that Nick's ratings are very poor and have been for a long time”

End Quote Lord Oakeshott

Asked how he sees the coming year, he replies: "The prospect is not good. It's disastrous if we are seen as a tin can tied to the Tories' tail in 2015."

He added: "Let's be objective; we have to accept that Nick's ratings are very poor and have been for a long time."

He did not directly call for Mr Clegg to be ousted, but said the party had to think about whether it would do better under a new leader, as some opinion polls have suggested.

"These are things people have to think about given how sensitive the number of our seats will be. It's for the party to decide."

'Like clockwork'

Mr Clegg shrugged off the attack in an interview with BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester.

"He tends to always do so like clockwork at this time of year. When it's conference and the weather turns bad, up pops Matthew Oakeshott with some disobliging remarks about me," said the Lib Dem leader.

Asked whether he would still be the leader of the party at the time of the next election, Mr Clegg replied: "Absolutely, because I've set out what we're going to do as a party - which is see this government through, deliver what we said to the British people."

He has admitted there are "differences" between Lib Dems that will surface in conference debates but he insists the party is united.

He is expected to urge activists to be "proud" of the role the party has played in turning the economy round.

Mansion tax

He told The House magazine: "As a party we have held our nerve and proved ourselves as a confident and competent party of government, remaining united and firm while making tough choices which are right for the country."

It comes as party president Tim Farron, another man touted as a possible successor to Mr Clegg, called for the restoration of the 50p top tax rate and making the Lib Dems' proposed "mansion tax" much costlier for the very rich, in an interview with the London Evening Standard.

He refused to be drawn on whether he would prefer a coalition with Labour after the next election, telling the Evening Standard: "It's not about whether you agree with one side more than the other, it's about what would make certain things more achievable."

Earlier this week, Mr Farron said he "really liked" Labour leader Ed Miliband in an interview with the New Statesman, saying: "I don't want to diss him. I don't want join in with the Tories who compare him to Kinnock."

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  54.  
    Get involved 11:39: Politics Live readers on the TV debates

    Some more comments from Politics Live readers on the TV debates

    No meaningful mass media debate between the main party leaders? Just another example of politicians' disrespect for the population at large. They all think that the ONLY moment of accountability is at the ballot box and violently object to any other forum (unless it`s in their own particular interest).

    John Hyland

    Am I the only one who would be thankful if no debates took place at all? Televised Punch and Judy Politics can be seen every day on the news and in particular at Wednesday's Prime Ministers Questions. This is not informative nor even remotely entertaining.

    David Parker

    The problem is, the Conservative party have backed themselves into a corner. They have been banging on for the last few years how weak a candidate Ed Miliband has been and it's come back to haunt them.

    Expectations of Ed are so low, even an even debate would be a landslide victory for the Labour Party. From the Conservative point of view, it doesn't really make sense to give Labour the platform, where the best they could do is break even.

    Nicholas Williams

    It seems unlikely that any of the party leaders will win a majority in May. They are going to have to work together for the common good of an electorate tired of their silly and destructive adversarial politics.

    Let's make a reality TV show instead. It might be interesting if all the party leaders were shut in a plush stately home with plenty of TV cameras and given a task or do - agree a plan to build an environmentally sustainable economy in the UK would be a good one. There are many more tasks like that to be tackled.

    It would be tempting to make them stay in there until they agreed. In the real world we all need politicians to work together for the common good - something else they would have to agree on.

    It might even make good television. It is what Parliament needs to become after 7 May.

    Simon Court

     
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    11:37: TV debates: Lessons from history Brian Wheeler Political reporter
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  57.  
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    • David Cameron will only take part in one debate, his communications chief Craig Oliver has said. That debate must feature at least seven leaders and must be held this month. Mr Craig also criticised the "deeply unsatisfactory process" of organising the debates
    • Labour aren't happy. Alastair Campbell has accused Mr Cameron of making "pathetic excuses" to avoid the debates, which he says the prime minister is scared of losing
    • Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has offered to take Mr Cameron's place in the one-on-one debates. He says he would be happy to defend the government's record
    • But Lucy Powell, vice chair of Labour's election campaign, says the head-to-head should be between those who could be prime minister after 7 May
    • SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon says the prime minister is "clearly running scared of having to answer for his government's record of failure and incompetence"
    • A UKIP spokesman says Mr Cameron is "acting chicken"
    • Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood says Mr Cameron's behaviour is "unacceptable and arrogant"
    • The Democratic Unionist Party says broadcaster have made a "complete and utter mess" of plans to hold the debates
    • Publically, the broadcasters have said very little. But privately, they seem determined not to buckle, says our assistant political editor Norman Smith
     
  58.  
    11:27: No 10's briefing for political reporters Ben Wright Political correspondent, BBC News

    On TV debates the PM's spokesman referred all questions back to Director of Communications Craig Oliver's letter of last night. Asked if David Cameron was running scared the spokesman said "that is not a premise I would accept".

     
  59.  
    11:23: Shapps on Daily Politics Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    Andrew Neil and Jo Coburn are joined by former Labour minister Andrew Adonis as guest of the day. Conservative chairman Grant Shapps will be talking TV debates. MPs Paul Flynn and Andrew Percy will debate whether PMQs should be abolished, while a film from Giles Dilnot looks at civilian use of drones after a parliamentary report on the issue. And they will be looking at party names after the Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party was told by the Electoral Commission that its moniker was "describing women as a sexual object in a demeaning way and would cause offence if it were to appear on ballot paper". You can watch the programme live from 1200-1300, or later, on the Live Coverage tab on this page (if you're reading this on the BBC app, to watch the it live you have to click here and open the page in a browser)

     
  60.  
    11:05: Hague on debates
    William Hague

    William Hague has told MPs that the Prime Minister's offer for a television debate should be taken up. Speaking in the Commons this morning he said: "When I recall asking Tony Blair when I was leader of the opposition in 2001 for a television debate there was not even an offer of a debate from Tony, not even the pretence of a debate, there was a very clear 'no debate whatsoever'. And this prime minister is offering a debate and that is an offer that should be taken up that was never offered by Tony Blair in similar circumstances."

     
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  63.  
    10:50: Expert view: Are debates dead? Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    So are the debates dead? Well, maybe not. But only if the broadcasters hold their nerve. In other words if they decide to press ahead with the three debates and empty chair the prime minister. It would be a huge decision - and many at Westminster remain sceptical that the BBC would be willing to do this.

    However, privately, the broadcasters' insist they will not buckle and will not allow one party to "dictate" the conditions. They insist the single 90 minute seven, or even eight party, debate proposed by the prime minister will "not cover the ground". And crucially, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats say they will still turn up for whatever debates the broadcasters' decide to hold. Ed Miliband will even take part in the head-to-head without David Cameron - and subject himself to a grilling from Jeremy Paxman. Senior Lib Dems say Nick Clegg would be ready to stand in for the prime minister in the final head-to-head, making it a Miliband v Clegg clash.

    The danger for the prime minister is that even if the debates lose their impact without him - he risks a backlash from voters for failing to take part. Downing Street's hope - that the broadcasters will buckle and either agree to his proposal or just scrap the whole idea of TV debates for this election.

     
  64.  
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  65.  
    10:41: Electoral reform society on debates

    Reaction to David Cameron's TV debate decision is coming in thick and fast. Electoral Reform Society Chief Executive Katie Ghose says: "This unseemly squabble over TV debates has to end now. In the run-up to an election that's too close to call, the British public expect to hear from all the party leaders. Everyone involved needs to recognise that fact and come to an agreement before it's too late.

    "Compared to other advanced democracies around the world, Britain has been extremely late to the party when it comes to TV debates. It would be a national embarrassment if we end up being the first to leave that party as well. No TV debates in 2015 would be a backward step in terms of our democratic development."

     
  66.  
    10:40: DUP on TV debates

    The Democratic Unionist Party says broadcasters have made a "complete and utter mess" of plans to hold pre-election TV debates. The party has begun legal action against the BBC for excluding it from its earlier proposal of two UK TV debates. Today, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster that the BBC and other broadcasters had "messed up big style" during the entire debates process.

     
  67.  
    10:40: Rural fuel rebates

    Away from Westminster, the European Union has approved the rollout of rural fuel rebates to 17 areas in Scotland and England. The move will mean some retailers can claim back up to 5p per litre duty relief on unleaded petrol and diesel, and pass on the savings to customers. The 17 areas include parts of the Highlands, Argyll and Bute, Northumberland, Cumbria, Devon and North Yorkshire.

     
  68.  
    10:35: Hustings origins

    Where does the word "hustings" come from? Our colleague Trevor Timpson, the BBC's Vocabularist, has been taking a look.

     
  69.  
    10:30: Plaid Cymru on debates
    Leanne Wood

    Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood says she is "ready to debate the prime minister and the other party leaders at any time".

    She adds: "People want these debates to go ahead so that they have the opportunity to hear from the parties that they will be voting for in May. Plaid Cymru is ready for these debates and we look forward to setting out our plans for an alternative to Westminster's austerity agenda. The prime minister's efforts to manipulate the broadcasters are unacceptable and arrogant and it would seem that he is running scared of his record being open to scrutiny."

     
  70.  
    10:25: TV debates: A broadcaster's view BBC News Channel

    Former Sky News chief Chris Birkett, who this time is heading up a team hoping to stage a prime ministerial debate on YouTube, says the broadcasters have been firm so far and that he won't be surprised if the broadcasters stick firm with the current plans. But he suggests there may need to be a look at how the debates are organised in the future.

     
  71.  
    10:13: Scottish polling reaction
    Andrew Morrison and James Cook

    After last night's Ashcroft polling on Scotland, our Scotland correspondent James Cook is out in Glasgow speaking to some of those involved in the election. First up is Glasgow East Tory candidate Andrew Morrison. He says his party is "fighting hard" to increase its share of the vote - especially because Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson is from the constituency. He says the response he gets on the doorsteps has been mixed, with many not having decided how to vote yet. Mr Morrison agrees with our correspondent that Scottish politics is now being seen through the prism of nationalism v unionism.

     
  72.  
    10:12: 'Cameron running scared' BBC News Channel

    The British public wants to see the TV debates, according to Labour's Lucy Powell. She says Ed Miliband debating Nick Clegg head-to-head, as suggested earlier by Lord Ashdown and the Liberal Democrat leader, is not the table at the moment. The debate should be between those who could be prime minister after the election and says David Cameron is "running scared".

     
  73.  
    10:11: Your say

    Some more of your views on the TV debates

    David Cameron gives Ed Miliband a thumping (metaphorically) every Wednesday at PMQs - I don't think for a minute that he's running scared or has anything to prove.

    D.Williams

    Politicians are there to serve us, not vice versa and television is a great medium to reach millions across the country, allowing us to hear how they propose to do that and get a measure of their leadership qualities.

    Garan Jenkin

    If Cameron can't be bothered to turn up for debates (plural) then I can't be bothered to turn out and vote.

    Colin Smale

    A pointless exercise overhyped by journalists with nothing better to do. The politicians will tell us what they think we want to hear. Far better to judge them on what they have done over the lat few years. Parliamentary question time is a disgrace by all parties

    Rob Whitrow

     
  74.  
    10:09: Alastair Campbell on debates BBC News Channel
    Campbell

    David Cameron is investing "pathetic excuses" over the TV debates, Alastair Campbell says. He is worried out losing them, and that is why he is not taking part, Tony Blair's former director of communications says. And it is an insult to the British people not to give them a chance to see a one-on-one debate, he adds.

    He admits he was "sceptical" of Tony Blair taking part in the debates previously, but the precedent has now been set, he says.

     
  75.  
    @LordAshcroft Lord Ashcroft, pollster

    tweets: Factors in voters' decisions between Con and Lab and how they've moved. Cons need points top right, Lab top left:

    Ashcroft tweets
     
  76.  
    09:51: Transport questions House of Commons Parliament

    Over in the Commons, Transport questions are just getting under way. Topics today include the Airports Commission, rural railway stations and compensation payments to passengers for delayed rail travel. You can follow today's proceedings on our dedicated Westminster live page.

     
  77.  
    09:50: Clegg on UKIP Call Clegg
    Nigel Farage

    Nick Clegg bets a UKIP candidate (not Nigel Farage) who calls his programme "several pints" that the Lib Dems will have "many, many, many, many, many more" MPs than his party after 7 May. He says UKIP will be a "pipsqueak" party in comparison.

     
  78.  
    09:48: Clegg on spending Call Clegg

    On defence, Nick Clegg says the spending review will decide how much of GDP goes towards defence in the future. The deputy prime minister says money was misspent to the tune of billions in the past and must be properly spent in the future. It comes amid a debate on whether the UK will be able to honour a commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence.

     
  79.  
    09:47: Tony Blair donation

    A bit more on Tony Blair's decision to donate £106,000 in total to Labour candidates fighting the election. In a letter to candidates in key seats, the former PM says: "I know how hard it can be to raise money to fund a local campaign, but for you, in one of our 106 battleground seats, it is even more vital. This is where the election will be won for Labour and that is why I am making a donation to all 106 campaigns."

     
  80.  
    09:38: TV debates latest
    Leaders

    Here's our latest story on the TV debates, leading off with David Cameron's political opponents accusing him of running scared.

     
  81.  
    09:35: Clegg on eurostar Call Clegg

    Nick Clegg tells LBC the sale of Eurostar was a good deal and good value for the taxpayer. He says the state is not simply there to manage transport companies. But he says infrastructure - particularly HS2 - carries many benefits for the country. The line "is something which is long long long overdue", the deputy prime minister adds.

     
  82.  
    @AlexForsythBBC Alex Forsyth, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: So @David_Cameron seems to have unified political parties from across the spectrum in their response to his position on #debates

     
  83.  
    09:25: Clegg on drugs policy Call Clegg

    Meanwhile, over on LBC's Call Clegg phone-in, the deputy PM is talking about drug laws. Mr Clegg says the full force of the criminal justice system should be focussed on those criminals and gags who peddle illegal drugs and "profit from misery" of addiction. The comments come after news that the Liberal Democrats' manifesto will include a pledge to hand drugs policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health.

    The system at the moment "just doesn't make sense", Mr Clegg says, but adds that drugs will still remain illegal and there will still be civil penalties for users.

     
  84.  
    09:22: Nicola Sturgeon on debates
    Nicola Sturgeon

    SNP leader of Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon is the latest politician to criticise David Cameron over his refusal to take part in more than one TV debate. She says he is "clearly running scared of having to answer for his government's record of failure and incompetence - and this arrogance in trying to lay down the law is all about getting out of debates, not taking part".

    "I will debate him anytime, anywhere, on any number of occasions. However we have accepted the broadcasters' proposals, and believe we should stick with that, rather than allow a Tory Prime Minister to dictate the terms of debate."

     
  85.  
    09:13: Deputy PM on debates Call Clegg

    Nick Clegg has told LBC he is prepared to stand up and defend the government in the TV debates if David Cameron doesn't take part. The deputy prime minister says he is "about the only person who is prepared to step up to the plate and actually defend the record of this government."

     
  86.  
    09:06: 'Down to the broadcasters ' Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    It all hinges on what the broadcasters do now. At the moment, they are saying nothing in public. But privately, they seem determined to tough this out.

     
  87.  
    09:05: Labour's Scottish challenge
    Ballot box

    There are other political stories today, even if the debate row is drowning out coverage. Prof John Curtice has been speaking to BBC Scotland about Labour's prospects north of the border at the election. He said there may be tough times ahead for the party after new polling by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft suggested big gains for the SNP at May's election.

     
  88.  
    @xtophercook Chris Cook, Newsnight policy editor

    tweets: I don't get why CCHQ doesn't just say "Last time, we think the debates were a distraction and we would rather run a traditional campaign"

     
  89.  
    09:03: Your say

    Politics Live readers on TV debates

    Mr Cameron, in effect, is the CEO of the United Kingdom. His duty is to abide by what the electorate requests or risk losing power, he has already lost face. He doesn't want to stand in front of his company's employees and explain his failures.

    Chris

    Either David Cameron or Ed Miliband will be obliged to form a (probably minority) government on 8th May so why is Cameron running scared of a 1 to 1 debate with Miliband?

    ... The public want to see an old fashioned 1 to 1 between the 2 potential Prime Ministers and if it doesn't happen it will be David Cameron's fault.

    Andy Kirkland

    If the conservatives think Ed Miliband is so weak why is David Cameron not willing to go head to head with him?

    Pat Pierce.

    Cameron is always going on about the achievements of this Government, how at all costs the good work being done should continue and not change course, the long term etc. If he speaks so passionately about this and how anything else would be utter chaos and doom, and he wants people to vote Tory, why does he not go all out in TV debate with Miliband and pull opposition apart and vice versa, so the voters get to see a real debate.

    K.Pearce

     
  90.  
    @IsabelHardman Isabel Hardman, assistant editor at The Spectator

    tweets: Tory MPs are in a mutinous mood over defence spending, dismissed as having "no votes". Me in today's Times

     
  91.  
    08:47: 'Thatcher would have debated' BBC News Channel

    Lord Ashdown tells the BBC he can't imagine Margaret Thatcher refusing to take part in debates - he says David Cameron's decision is "unbelievable". The former Lib Dem leader adds that broadcasters should go ahead with their plans and "empty-chair" the prime minister if needs be.

     
  92.  
    08:46: Greens on TV debates
    Nathalie Bennett

    The Green Party has just released a statement on the TV debate row: "This swerve by Cameron will further damage trust in our political system. Not only is Cameron's announcement cowardly but it also shows his contempt for the electorate.

    "People want to see a set of debates between all major party leaders, yet the Prime Minister is clearly scared of scrutiny.

    "Natalie is very much looking forward to debating with the other 6 party leaders. David Cameron must not be allowed to scupper these plans."

     
  93.  
    @jimwaterson Jim Waterson, BuzzFeed UK deputy editor

    tweets: Happy to host a seven-way leaders' debate over Twitter group DMs at a time that suits the parties.

     
  94.  
    08:40: What's happened so far?

    It's been a busy morning in Westminster. Here's a quick recap for those of you heading to work or just arriving at the office:

    There's bound to be plenty more to come. We'll bring you all the latest news and analysis. Don't forget to let us know your views; emails is politics@bbc.co.uk or tweet @bbcpolitics.

     
  95.  
    @kayburley Kay Burley, Sky News presenter

    tweets: So @campbellclaret says he's been prepping @Ed_Miliband for #TVdebates by 'playing David Cameron' Now there's a thought...

     
  96.  
    08:27: Harvey Proctor BBC Radio 4 Today

    "The police wish to interview me", Mr Proctor says. He wants it to happen "at the earliest opportunity", he adds.

     
  97.  
    08:25: Harvey Proctor BBC Radio 4 Today

    Harvey Proctor says he was a discreet man and he would not have discussed his sexuality with senior colleagues in the Commons. He tells Today he did not know about alleged sex abuse. He says he is "sure" some of the allegations are true, but others are not.

     
  98.  
    08:24: Harvey Proctor on claims BBC Radio 4 Today

    Former Conservative MP Harvey Proctor is speaking to Today after his house was searched by police. The police have told him they are investigating historical sex abuse allegations going back to 1970s and 1980s, he says. The offences he committed in the past would no longer be offences - they related to the age of consent, he adds. He denies ever attending sex parties of being part of any "rent boy ring" with high profile figures.

     
  99.  
    08:21: Debate fallout BBC Radio 5 live
    Lord Carlile

    Reaction to the debates row is pouring in. This is from Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile:

    "I think we should found our debates on the system we've got, upon a credible approach and treating the public as intelligent people and the Prime Minister I'm afraid is running scared from it because he knows how well Nick Clegg did at the last election so he doesn't want him in the debates."

    On plans for a seven-party debate, he adds: "I most certainly will not be watching a bun fight of that kind because I think it will be extremely uninformative. I think the public should be treated with respect in this controversy and the public expect that this will be resolved on the basis of the election system we have, like it or not."

     
  100.  
    08:19: Lord Ashdown on debates BBC Radio 4 Today

    The biggest losers from this are the British people, says Lord Ashdown. He accuses the prime minister of "cowardice" and suggests the debates could become a right for the British people.

     

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