BUSINESS Secretary Vince Cable has strongly denied that he was involved in what has been described as a “a botched coup” to replace Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as leader.
As speculation mounted that he was behind the polls in Mr Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam constituency and Chief Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander’s Inverness seat aimed at forcing the current party leadership out, Dr Cable insisted that he was fully behind the Deputy Prime Minister and called for party infighting to end.
With the party in turmoil after last week’s disastrous European Parliament and English local election results, Mr Clegg insisted that he would “absolutely not” sack Dr Cable and said he believed the Business Secretary was not involved in the attempted coup organised by his close friend Lord Matthew Oakeshott.
The peer quit the party yesterday, lashing out at the “disastrous” Deputy Prime Minister and saying he left the party with a “heavy heart”.
But Dr Cable said in an interview in China today that he wanted to make it “absolutely clear” he was backing Mr Clegg.
He said: “People are putting round the story that there is some division on that. There is not. I made it absolutely clear from the beginning of this week that there is absolutely no leadership issue.
“We have a united team. We have clearly got to recover from the very difficult election and I’m part of that team and will be supporting the leader.”
Asked whether he had behaved disloyally by not telling Mr Clegg the secret polls were being carried out, he replied: “There was no disloyalty whatever. There were some polls being carried out, lots of polls carried out in the party and in other parties.
“It is part of professional politics, finding out what is going on. I had a poll in my own constituency, related entirely to my local election campaign. There were others, which I have condemned, which took place, as I understand it, in Sheffield and Inverness.
“I knew nothing about those, they were quite wrong to do it in a way that put information into the public to damage colleagues. I have made a distinction between that and the information-gathering in the polls which is part of professional politics.”
Asked if he would sack Dr Cable, Mr Clegg told LBC: “Absolutely not. Vince and I are going to carry on working together successfully to deliver many of the policies and ideas that we have been campaigning on as Liberal Democrats for years and years and years.”
Mr Alexander also dismissed the polls as “the most ridiculous” he had seen and said he believed Mr Cable’s assurances.
Former Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson, who lost his seat in the European Parliament in last Thursday’s near wipe-out, said he had no reason to disbelieve Dr Cable when he said he was not aware the polls were being conducted in Mr Clegg and Mr Alexander’s constituencies.
“Vince also said very clearly that there is no leadership issue as far as he is concerned. That really puts the matter to bed,” he continued.
But he also said that it was possible to be as “treacherous” by failing to stop something as by being part of it.
Asked whether Dr Cable should have advised his friend Lord Oakeshott not to do it, Sir Graham replied: “Of course it’s the case that sometimes we can be as treacherous by our failure to stop something as we can by our being involved, but Vince Cable is doing an incredibly taxing and busy job.
“Nobody believes he is trying to undermine Nick. The people who are trying to sow dissension in the Liberal Democrat ranks are the blue-top newspapers.
“Maybe he should have said to Matthew Oakeshott very early on, ‘this is not a good idea, don’t do it’. Clearly he didn’t.”