UK Politics

Vince Cable denies disloyalty over Oakeshott polls

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Media captionVince Cable: "I was not given any information about these polls"

Vince Cable has denied acting disloyally after one of his closest allies attempted to get Nick Clegg sacked as Liberal Democrat leader.

Lord Oakeshott commissioned polls suggesting the party would do better without Mr Clegg at the helm.

Mr Cable admits knowing about some of the polling, but denied knowing about ones in Mr Clegg's own constituency.

He denied wanting Mr Clegg's job before the next election telling BBC News: "I am supporting the party leader."

The business secretary, who is on a trade mission in China, said he wanted the "in-fighting" in the party to end, saying: "There is absolutely no leadership issue. We have a united team."

Asked about the polls suggesting the party would do better under his leadership, Mr Cable said he was not going to "speculate" about "abstract possibilities".

BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson said that despite Mr Cable's pledge of loyalty "lingering" questions remained because the business secretary knew that the polls had asked about whether a change of leader would improve the party's fortunes but appears not to have told Mr Clegg.

Image caption Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, enjoying a cuppa during the 2010 General Election campaign

The polls, which suggested the party would lose fewer seats at the next election if Mr Cable or, to a lesser extent Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander, was the leader instead of Mr Clegg were leaked to The Guardian in the wake of disastrous local and European election results for the party.

The man who paid for them, Lord Oakeshott, has been agitating for the removal of Mr Clegg for some time. He has now quit the party, claiming it is "heading for disaster" under Mr Clegg.

In his resignation statement, he said he hoped the polls would give activists the information they needed to force a leadership election, adding that Mr Cable knew about the polls - including the one in Mr Clegg's Sheffield Hallam constituency - some weeks ago.

That Sheffield Hallam poll

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The ICM poll commissioned by Lord Oakeshott in Nick Clegg's Sheffield Hallam constituency, which Mr Cable insists he knew nothing about, was carried out between 29 April and 4 May. It asked 500 of Mr Clegg's constituents: "I would like you to think again about a General Election to the Westminster Parliament being held in your area tomorrow. Suppose for a moment that Nick Clegg stepped down as Liberal Democrat leader, and the business secretary Vince Cable moved into the job. If Vince Cable were leader of the Liberal Democrats and there were a General Election tomorrow, which party do you think you would vote for?" Some 22% said they would vote for the Lib Dems - just 1% more than said they would vote Lib Dem if Mr Clegg was the leader at the next election. The Lib Dems would retain the seat, however, beating the Conservatives, on 21%, into second place. With Mr Clegg as leader Labour, on 22%, would win the seat, according to the survey. Mr Clegg retained Sheffield Hallam in 2010 with 53.4% of the vote and a majority of 15,284.

The business secretary has repeatedly denied this, insisting he knew about Lord Oakeshott's polling in his Twickenham constituency and some other areas, but not in Mr Clegg's constituency or fellow minister Danny Alexander's Inverness constituency.

Mr Cable said there was "no disloyalty whatever" and he had made clear that the polling carried out in Mr Clegg's constituency and Inverness was "quite wrong".

Speaking to BBC Radio Sheffield, Mr Clegg said of Mr Cable: "He clearly didn't know at all about a poll being conducted in Sheffield."

He added that Mr Cable had been "very critical" about the poll having taken place.

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Image caption Lord Oakeshott is a long-standing critic of Nick Clegg

Mr Clegg admitted the party had lost support since joining the coalition in 2010, but that to leave now - as Lord Oakeshott wants - "would harm the Liberal Democrats for a generation".

He added: "Clearly, we had some really, really bad election results last week. That, of course, quite rightly means there's a lot of questions and soul searching about what we do as a party over the next year."

Prime Minister David Cameron defended Mr Cable, saying he was "playing an important role" as business secretary.

Asked whether he trusts Mr Cable, in the wake of the allegations surrounding Lord Oakeshott, he said: "I judge my ministers on the results they are delivering."

Lib Dem party sources conceded that continued turmoil could threaten to destabilise the party but they said Lord Oakeshott's departure had put an end to what they called a "ham-fisted coup attempt".

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Media captionNick Clegg: "Vince Cable clearly didn't know a thing about the poll being conducted"

Mr Clegg has faced calls to step down from 300 activists while a number of constituency associations, including Liverpool and Cambridge, are to hold meetings to discuss their leader's future.

He has said it was "wholly unacceptable" that a senior member of the party "rather than trying to go out and win votes was spending money and time trying to undermine the fortunes of the party".

It emerged on Tuesday that Lord Oakeshott had paid for an ICM poll into Mr Clegg's electoral appeal, with results suggesting the Lib Dems would pick up votes in four seats, including Mr Clegg's, if Mr Cable or other figures replaced Mr Clegg as leader.

The poll suggested the party was on course to lose Sheffield Hallam and three other seats - Cambridge, Redcar and Wells - next year unless there was a change at the top.

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