NICK Clegg has insisted Vince Cable was not involved in a failed attempt to oust him as Liberal Democrat leader.
The Deputy Prime Minister said the Business Secretary was fully supportive of his leadership and insisted he did not believe “for a second” the Cabinet minister had been behind the plot to force him out of the party’s top job.
During his regular Call Clegg show on LBC he said: “He was absolutely not aware of polls elsewhere. He has made it very, very clear that he, for instance, didn’t want any questions about leadership in the poll which he did have some control over in his own constituency.
“So, look I fully expect that people will try and suggest that there are endless plots and conspiracies. I don’t believe that for a second. Vince is an outstanding Secretary of State for Business. He and I have worked together for years and years and years and we are going to continue to work together in harness as part of a really strong Lib Dem team in government. Full stop.”
Mr Clegg insisted the Business Secretary is fully supportive of his leadership and the pair speak daily.
“He supports me, he has said so and will no doubt say so again,” he added.
Mr Clegg said he would “absolutely not” sack Mr Cable in the wake of the botched coup launched by the Business Secretary’s close friend Lord Oakeshott.
The peer, a long-time critic of the Deputy Prime Minister, commissioned a series of polls that indicated the party’s general election performance would improve if Mr Clegg resigned.
Mr Cable was forced to issue statements about his knowledge and involvement in the polling while on a trade mission to Chinese capital Beijing, insisting he had “absolutely no knowledge of” surveys that were done in Sheffield Hallam and Inverness - the constituencies of the Lib Dem leader and Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
After it emerged that Lord Oakeshott was almost certainly the instigator of the polling, Mr Clegg threatened him with disciplinary action.
The peer quit the party yesterday, lashing out at the “disastrous” Deputy Prime Minister and saying he left the party with a “heavy heart”.
Mr Cable told the BBC in China today that he wanted to make it “absolutely clear” he was backing Mr Clegg.
He said: “People are putting round the story that there is some division on that. There is not. I made it absolutely clear from the beginning of this week that there is absolutely no leadership issue.
“We have a united team. We have clearly got to recover from the very difficult election and I’m part of that team and will be supporting the leader.”
Asked whether he had behaved disloyally by not telling Mr Clegg the secret polls were being carried out, he replied: “There was no disloyalty whatever. There were some polls being carried out, lots of polls carried out in the party and in other parties.
“It is part of professional politics, finding out what is going on. I had a poll in my own constituency, related entirely to my local election campaign... There were others, which I have condemned, which took place, as I understand it, in Sheffield and Inverness.
“I knew nothing about those, they were quite wrong to do it in a way that put information into the public to damage colleagues. I have made a distinction between that and the information-gathering in the polls which is part of professional politics.”
Asked if he would sack Dr Cable, Mr Clegg told LBC: “Absolutely not .... Vince and I are going to carry on working together successfully to deliver many of the policies and ideas that we have been campaigning on as Liberal Democrats for years and years and years.”
During the radio phone-in Mr Clegg said he remains “absolutely gutted” about the drubbing his party took in the local and euro elections, but denied he had been crying before a television interview in the wake of the results in which his eyes appeared bloodshot.
The Lib Dem leader acknowledged that Ukip leader Nigel Farage won the live broadcast debates on Europe, saying “clearly he got the better of that one”.
“I absolutely believe that it was right to do those debates and I would do them again,” he added.
“Clearly, it would be daft to pretend otherwise, I didn’t win them if that’s the way people want to look at it, but I don’t believe that you can duck an argument of this enormity.”
Asked by one caller if he would support giving Mr Farage a peerage for “services to politics”, a chuckling Mr Clegg said: “I’m not going to declare that Nigel Farage is suddenly Sir Nigel.”
Pressed over whether he had been crying before a television interview on Monday, he replied: “No, of course not.”
Told his eyes had been red, he said: “Were they?”
Mr Clegg suggested he had been tired after campaigning for weeks and and staying up late for the results.
“I sometimes feel it’s like having... the nation becomes your mum,” he added.
Liberal Democrat Sir Graham Watson, who lost his seat in the European Parliament in last Thursday’s near wipe-out, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he had no reason to disbelieve Dr Cable when he said he was not aware the polls were being conducted in Mr Clegg and Danny Alexander’s constituencies.
“Vince also said very clearly that there is no leadership issue as far as he is concerned. That really puts the matter to bed,” he continued.
But he also said that it was possible to be as “treacherous” by failing to stop something as by being part of it.
Asked whether Dr Cable should have advised his friend Lord Oakeshott not to do it, Sir Graham replied: “Of course it’s the case that sometimes we can be as treacherous by our failure to stop something as we can by our being involved, but Vince Cable is doing an incredibly taxing and busy job.
“Nobody believes he is trying to undermine Nick. The people who are trying to sow dissension in the Liberal Democrat ranks are the blue-top newspapers.
“Maybe he should have said to Matthew Oakeshott very early on, ‘this is not a good idea, don’t do it’... Clearly he didn’t.”