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Ditch Nick Clegg and save Lib-Dems, says peer as he is forced to quit over claims he leaked damaging party polls

By James Tapsfield, Elizabeth Barrett and Lindsay Watling

A Liberal Democrat peer has lashed out at "disastrous" Nick Clegg as he quit the Liberal Democrats rather than face disciplinary action for leaking damaging polls about the leader.

Lord Oakeshott said he was leaving with a "heavy heart", urging his former colleagues to save their political skins by ditching the Deputy Prime Minister before the general election.

He also raised fresh questions about his friend Vince Cable's involvement in a plot to oust Mr Clegg, suggesting the Business Secretary knew he had commissioned research into how the party would fare with someone else in charge.

The ICM findings from five crucial Lib Dem constituencies surfaced in The Guardian this week, as Mr Clegg came under immense pressure over disastrous local and European election results.

They indicated the party was on track to lose Mr Clegg's own Sheffield Hallam constituency and those of other senior figures, but the contests became tighter if someone else replaced him in the top job.

Lord Oakeshott was widely named as the source, sparking speculation that Mr Cable was on manoeuvres.

However, the Cabinet minister – currently in China on an official trip – quashed the rumours with a statement disowning Lord Oakeshott's "inexcusable" actions, and repeating his view that there is "no leadership issue".

Announcing his departure just hours after Mr Clegg signalled he would face disciplinary action, Lord Oakeshott said: "I am sorry I have so upset and embarrassed my old friend Vince Cable and that we were not able to talk before he issued yesterday's statement from China.

"The combined message of these five professional and reputable ICM constituency polls, Nick Clegg's dire approval ratings year after year in all national polls, and Thursday's appalling council and European election results is crystal clear: we must change the leader to give Liberal Democrat MPs their best chance to win in 2015."

Lord Oakeshott, a former party spokesman, said Mr Cable had been involved in organising the poll in his Twickenham constituency and was told about the results of the others "several weeks ago".

But speaking in China, Mr Cable said he had "absolutely no knowledge" of polling carried out in Nick Clegg's constituency.

Asked about the row after delivering a speech in east London, Mr Clegg said: "I think it is totally unacceptable in a campaign for the Liberal party facing very, very difficult elections last week, as we were, to find out now with hindsight 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.

"Obviously Parliament will resume next week. All these things will be taken up then and discussed in the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and following those discussions appropriate steps will no doubt be taken."

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said Lord Oakeshott's resignation was "inevitable" as soon as it became clear the opinion polls had been commissioned in secret and allegedly leaked by him.

He told the BBC's The World At One that the peer had come to see himself as "something of a king-maker" but had in this instance "gone beyond his competence". He branded the resignation letter a "typically defiant explanation" and said he too had allegedly been the victim of Lord Oakeshott's attentions during his leadership.

Quotes

"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."

Lord Oakeshott

"Look, this happens in politics from time to time, people start deciding to take pot shots at their own side. It's never sensible."

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg

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