Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott. Photograph: BBC News.
Show Hide image

Clegg hints that Lord Oakeshott could lose Lib Dem whip

"Appropriate steps" will be taken against the rebellious peer. 

After Lord Oakeshott was unmasked as the man behind a poll suggesting that he would lose his seat, Nick Clegg has just given his first response at a press conference following his speech on international development. He described the behaviour of Vince Cable's ally as "wholly unacceptable" and suggested that "appropriate steps" would be taken against him when parliament returns next week (a meeting of Lib Dem peers is planned to determine his fate). That would most likely involve Oakeshott losing the party whip. 

Here's Clegg's full answer:

I think it's odd, to put it very mildly, that any fellow Liberal Democrat should spend time and good money, when the rest of us were out campaigning for these tough elections, instead surreptiticiously trying to come up with specious claims on the basis of polls which, by the way, were entirely confounded by the election results last week.

I don't need some partial poll to tell me how people actually voted. In my constituency, for instance, where as it happens the Liberal Democrats increased our majority across my constituency.

So I think it's a great, great pity that people choose to invest their time and their money in effect trying to undermine precisely the campaigns that the rest of us were seeking to campaign on over the last few weeks.

But this happens in politics from time to time. People start deciding to take pot shots at their own side. It's never sensible. At the end of the day we've got a year to go before the general election. My party suffered a very significant setback in the elections last week. Of course we need to talk about that, we need to think about that, there are a lot of soul searching questions about that ....

I think it is wholly unacceptable for people in a campaigning political party, facing very, very difficult elections last week, as we were, to find out now with hindsight a senior member of the party, far from going out and trying to win votes, was spending money and time seeking to undermine the fortunes of the party. Obviously parliament will resume next week. A lot of 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.

Asked whether he believed that Cable (who condemned Oakeshott's treachery last night) was aware of the poll, he refused to say, but sources close to Clegg are briefing that they are "100% convinced" that the Business Secretary was not involved. 

As for whether Clegg is in danger of losing his seat, Lord Ashcroft's forthcoming poll of Labour-Lib Dem seats should hopefully give us the answer. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Show Hide image

Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.