Lib Dem bigwig calls for Nick Clegg to go as support crashes

Lord Oakeshott says any business in the Lib Dems' position would need to 'look very hard at its management'

Column LAST UPDATED AT 11:07 ON Thu 30 Aug 2012

LORD OAKESHOTT has set the cat among the proverbial Lib Dem pigeons by calling for a change of management at the top of his party by getting rid of Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader.
 
Oakeshott's broadside in the closing seconds of the BBC Today programme was more astounding because it comes on the morning after Clegg's call for a "time limited" emergency tax on the rich that was intended to make himself more popular with his own party.

Responding to the latest polling figures by YouGov for Prospect magazine, which show the Lib Dems losing a massive 80 per cent of their support and flatlining at a voting share of ten or 11 per cent, Oakeshott said that if a company had suffered a similar dip in fortunes, there would be a need for a change of strategy and management.

The exact words of Oakeshott, an ally of Vince Cable, were: "We have lost over half our market share since the election and any business that had done that would be looking very hard at its strategy and its management to get some of that back... If we don't get some of those back we are going to lose far more seats than we need to at the next election."
 
To underline his point that he wants to see a change of leader, Oakeshott said the elections were "not just about the message they are also about the messenger", meaning Clegg.

There is no doubt who he would like to see replacing Clegg: Vince Cable. And that would suit Labour down to the ground. Ed Miliband would be happy to form a coalition to take power if there is another hung Parliament after the next election, but not with Clegg as leader of the Lib Dems.
 
Clegg has been condemned from all sides of the Tory Party for his populist remarks to The Guardian and the Chancellor George Osborne showed little short of contempt for the Deputy Prime Minister by pointing out that Clegg had voted for the cut in taxation for the highest paid from 50p to 45p.
 
But for Clegg to be attacked from his own side is far more damaging. Clegg mounted the 'tax the rich' platform to curry favour with his own troops in advance of the party conference season. The Guardian commentator Martin Kettle also pointed out in the same edition that on the polling figures, Clegg was a "loser".
 
Oakeshott is a passionate advocate of the Lib Dem 'mansion tax' that was scotched by the Chancellor, so he cannot be accused of being afraid of unpopularity with a further tax on the rich. His criticism of Clegg goes to the heart of the Lib Dem problems - they have lost support massively among their core voters for supporting the Tories in the Coalition. And the chief casualty is Clegg himself.

Clegg is planning to make 'tax the rich' his big platform battle cry at the Lib Dem annual party conference, but Oakeshott's remarks suggest it won't be enough to stop some of his party rank and file demanding his head.
 
There is now a strong possibility that Clegg could be ousted long before the Lib Dems get to the general election in 2015. Either Clegg goes, or the Coalition cracks up. The likes of Oakeshott believe they can only save themselves from humiliation at the polls with a new leader and a new direction. The remarkable thing is that he is prepared to say it. ·