Lord Oakeshott quits Lib Dems and warns of election disaster
Lib Dem peer quits saying that Clegg must be replaced as party leader
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott is to quit the party and take a leave of absence from the House of Lords in protest at the leadership of Nick Clegg, warning that the party is "heading for disaster".
He said that Clegg had turned the Lib Dems into a party with "no roots, no principles and no values".
In a statement, Oakeshott said he had reached his decision "with a heavy heart" but added that he could no longer continue. "I am sure the party is heading for disaster if it keeps Nick Clegg; and I must not get in the way of the many brave Liberal Democrats fighting for change," he said.
Lord Oakeshott commissioned and paid for an ICM poll, which concluded that the Lib Dems would actually manage to pick up seats in the next general election if they replaced Nick Clegg with Vince Cable "or other figures" as leader. The survey also suggested that the party would lose the four seats where the polling took place - Sheffield Hallam, Cambridge, Redcar, and Wells - if it did not change course.
The research showed that "we must change the leader to give Liberal Democrat MPs their best chance to win in 2015", Lord Oakeshott said.
Answering questions following a speech in London earlier today, Clegg said it was unacceptable that Lord Oakshott had spent money undermining his own party. "I think it is totally unacceptable... that a senior member of the party, far from actually going out trying to win votes was spending money and time seeking to undermine the fortunes of the party."
The Times notes that the Deputy Prime Minister "didn't take an opportunity to absolve [Vince] Cable from all knowledge of the poll". Oakeshott and Cable are longstanding political allies, although Cable has tried to distance himself from the peer since news of the poll emerged.
The severity of the situation was underlined by one of Clegg's allies, Baroness Shirley Williams of Crosby, who said in an interview with Channel 4 News that the Lib Dem leader had contemplated quitting after last week's elections.
"I think he himself has been persuaded he should stay, having been quite open to the idea that he shouldn't," Williams said.
Screenshot from Channel 4 News