UK coalition partner in turmoil after EU poll losses

An online petition by the LibDems4Change group calling for a new leader has attracted signatures from nearly 400 activists

UK coalition partner in turmoil after EU poll losses

World Bulletin/News Desk

The British government's junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, were in turmoil on Wednesday after a senior figure quit and told the party to ditch its leader or face electoral disaster next year.

Matthew Oakeshott, who has a seat in parliament's House of Lords, resigned from the party on Wednesday calling for Nick Clegg to stand down too after the LibDems lost all but one of their 11 seats in European Parliament elections last week.

If Clegg were to face a leadership challenge, it could throw the future of the government led by Conservative David Cameron into doubt less than a year before the 2015 national election.

Clegg has repeatedly said he will not give up the Liberal Democrat leadership.

But on Wednesday, Oakeshott said: "The party is heading for disaster if it keeps Nick Clegg."

In a statement posted on Twitter, he added: "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."

According to the party's constitution, a leadership election can be triggered by a vote of no confidence in Clegg from a majority of Liberal Democrat members of parliament. It could also be called if at least 75 local parties back such a contest.

An online petition by the LibDems4Change group calling for a new leader has attracted signatures from nearly 400 activists, while the local party in Cambridge is among those planning to hold a meeting to discuss Clegg's future.

A spokesman for the Liberal Democrats said Oakeshott's decision to go was "understandable in the circumstances".

"These have been a difficult few days after a disappointing set of election results. But now is the time to get on with the business of government and getting our message out," he said.

Clegg had earlier criticised Oakeshott, accusing him of seeking to undermine his leadership by paying for opinion polls that showed Liberal Democrats would lose seats next year.

"It is wholly unacceptable for people in a campaigning political party, facing very, very difficult elections ... 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," Clegg said.

Such is the turmoil within the party that Business Secretary Vince Cable, a Liberal Democrat minister who has been named by local media as a potential successor, interrupted a trip to China to deny he had been aware of the plans to conduct the opinion polls in two areas that showed Clegg and another senior LibDem member, Danny Alexander, were in danger of losing seats.

"I had absolutely no knowledge of the surveys that were done in Sheffield Hallam and Inverness," Cable, a friend of Oakeshott, told BBC television.

On Tuesday, Cable said public speculation about the leadership was an unwelcome distraction.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 29 Mayıs 2014, 10:52

Muhammed Öylek