Clegg - A very botched coup

Lord Oakeshott Image copyright PA

Rarely can a coup attempt have failed so spectacularly.

Its instigator has quit the party. The leader he was trying to unseat is secure - for now at least. And the man meant to inherit the crown is wounded - forced to condemn his friend and proclaim his loyalty from thousands of miles away.

Matthew Oakeshott has long believed that his party, the Liberal Democrats, were driving at speed towards an electoral brick wall. He has long dreamed of wrenching the wheel from the hands of Nick Clegg and installing in his place his old friend Vince Cable. He has long plotted against Clegg without, we've always been told, Cable's backing but without public criticism from him either.

Oakeshott's actions were inspired as much by disagreement about the direction of the Lib Dems as they were by fear of electoral annihilation.

A founder of the SDP - formed as a breakaway from Labour in the 1980s - he says he dreamed of creating "a radical progressive party". He claims that Nick Clegg has created, instead, a "split the difference Centre Party, with roots, no principles and no values".

This and other moves against Nick Clegg have allowed the Lib Dem leader to flush out support from MPs and peers - amongst them Vince Cable.

Under the rules, it would now take a rebellion by 75 local parties to trigger a leadership contest.

Lord Oakeshott's parting shot was to give his backing to those he called "a few stout-hearted MPs and peers and hundreds, maybe soon thousands, of candidates, councillors and Lib Dem members ... (who) are now fighting constituency by constituency for a leadership election".

Even if that never materialises one question will remain. Having lost almost half their public support, just under half their councillors and all but one of their MEPs what will stop the rot for the Lib Dems if it is not changing their leader?

(Since joining the coalition the lib Dems have lost 1700 councillors (43%), 11 MEPs and their vote share has dropped from 23% at the last general election to 13% in the local elections and below 7% in the Euros).