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Lord Oakeshott resigns from the Lib Dems over leaked Clegg poll

Peer leaves the party and warns it is "heading for disaster" under Clegg.

After Nick Clegg warned this morning that "appropriate steps" would be taken against Lord Oakeshott for leaking a poll that suggested he would lose his seat, the Lib Dem peer has just resigned his membership of the party. You can read his statement in full below.

Of note is that Oakeshott has dragged his old ally Vince Cable, who condemned his actions last night, back into the affair. He reveals that a few weeks ago he told Cable the results of the four constituency polls (including that in Clegg's seat) that appeared in the Guardian. Cable can argue that he did not commission the polls and that he did not know they were going to be leaked (while also noting that he removed a leadership question from a poll of his Twickenham consttuency). But if, as seems likely, he hid the results from Clegg, his reputation will be damaged.

I am today taking leave of absence from the House of Lords and resigning as a member of the Liberal Democrats. 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.

I leave, with a heavy heart, the party I helped to found with such high hopes with Roy Jenkins, Bill Rodgers, Shirley Williams and David Owen at Limehouse in 1981. We then, like most Liberal Democrats now, wanted a radical progressive party, not a “split the difference” Centre Party, with, in Shirley’s memorable words, no roots, no principles and no values. But that is where Nick Clegg has led us.

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. This is the background:

Several months ago a close colleague, concerned about voting intentions in Twickenham, asked me if I would arrange and pay for a poll to show us Vince’s current position and how best to get him re-elected. I was happy to help, and Vince amended and approved the questionnaire, but at his request I excluded a question on voting intentions with a change of leader. Although Vince had excellent ratings, both as a Minister and a local MP, he was slightly behind the Conservatives in this poll, as the full details on the ICM website (http://www.icmresearch.com/) show. That poll worried me so much that I commissioned four more in different types of constituency all over the country and added back the change of leadership question. The results were in the Guardian yesterday and on the ICM website (http://www.icmresearch.com/media-centre/polls/lib-dem-constituency-polling). Several weeks ago, I told Vince the results of those four polls too.

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 M.P.s their best chance to win in 2015. On Thursday I also commissioned one more ICM poll, in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey; the results should also be on the ICM website tonight at http://www.icmresearch.com/data/media/pdf/2014_libdems_inverness.pdf and http://www.icmresearch.com/data/media/pdf/2014_twick.pdf

A few stout-hearted M.P.s and peers and hundreds, maybe soon thousands, of candidates, councillors and Lib Dem members all over Britain are now fighting constituency by constituency for a leadership election. I have tried to give them the evidence they need to make the change. I pray that they win, and that the right man, or preferably, woman is now elected to save the Party.

When Charles Kennedy rang to make me a peer, from a panel elected by the party, fourteen years ago he said he wanted me to shake up the Lords. I’ve tried - my bills to ban non-dom peers are now law – but my efforts to expose and end cash for peerages in all parties, including our own, and help get the Lords elected have failed. I am very sorry to leave my many old, close comrades-in-arms on the Liberal Democrat benches all over Britain, and good friends and fellow campaigners across the House. But the unreformed Lords is now a bloated balloon and at 67 it’s time to concentrate on running my business and my charity.am today taking leave of absence from the House of Lords and resigning as a member of the Liberal Democrats. 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.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.