Responding to yesterday’s leaked poll attack on Nick Clegg’s leadership, David Laws told The Independent that they were coming from the “odd person on the edge of the party”.
The odd person in question, Lord Oakeshott, has now resigned – his Moriarty impression collapsing into a performance more commonly associated with that of a Scooby Doo villain.
As soon as the anonymous polls were leaked to The Guardian (we still don’t know who did the leaking, of course), the general expectation was that they had been commissioned by Oakeshott:
I’m agree with Vince but not with Nick. I have loads of money but no election to win. I’ve great connections to the media. Who am I?
— Charlotte Henry (@charlotteahenry) May 26, 2014
So threadbare was the cloak of anonymity that when he was named and condemned as the culprit by Vince Cable yesterday, literally no-one was surprised. Storming out of his party in an almighty strop (see the full resignation statement here) is a fitting end to a characteristically graceless episode.
Oakeshott’s legacy is an impressive one, in a way. This is a rebel who has left his target, Nick Clegg, more secure than he found him – the equivalent of shouting “Duck!” from behind a grassy knoll in Dallas.
On Monday, Clegg’s position was in doubt – Shirley Williams says he considered resigning, and a petition was doing the rounds demanding he go. The fix he was in was written clearly on his face.
Had Oakeshott left well alone, perhaps the Deputy Prime Minister would have fallen. As it was, the bungled hit on his party leader has united many wavering Lib Dems behind Clegg. The decision to throw a hand grenade at Danny Alexander in his resignation statement by revealing that he had commissioned a poll of his seat, too, makes it hard for any would-be rebel to act for fear they would be tainted by association with such a destructive figure. (The poll, by the way, is online here and suggests the SNP may unseat Alexander as follows: SNP 32%, Labour 25%, Liberal Democrats 16%, Conservatives 12%, UKIP 7%).
Not only is Clegg strengthened, but Cable – one of his two principle rivals, the other being Tim Farron – is directly weakened. While his former ally is swift to emphasise that Cable only signed off on the commissioning of the poll for his own seat, and apparently vetoed the leadership question being asked, Oakeshott drops him in it in other ways.
For a start, when Vince named Oakeshott in that statement sent from China (he’s on a trade trip, not receiving Manchurian Candidate training, we’re told) there were various possible conclusions available. Maybe he had phoned his old pal, asked him and gained a confession. Alternatively, maybe he knew something about the polls before they came out. The question was open, and Cable could claim to be entirely innocent.
Until the resignation statement, that is, which says:
“Several weeks ago, I told Vince the results of those four polls too.”
“Those four polls” being those in Sheffield Hallam, Cambridge, Redcar and Wells.
Cheers, mate, the Business Secretary must have muttered bitterly when he read that. Clearing Cable of agreeing to the polls being carried out is little help when Oakeshott daubs him in the blood by saying he had known of their results for weeks before they became public.
If he knew that this bombshell was coming, why did he not tell Nick Clegg? If he wasn’t toying with the idea that it might be useful, why did he not expose the attempt on his leader’s political life? He may not have built the metaphorical weapon, but he had seen it, knew it was there and, so far as we know, did nothing.
All of which leads me to consider the peculiar luck of Nick Clegg. Just as his success in 2010 has turned out to be a curse, so his biggest blessing has turned out to be his enemies – first Huhne, now Oakeshott, each has proved to be so clever and cunning that they ended up acting in a deeply stupid way. Who could hope for better enemies than this?