Vince Cable, the business secretary, has been forced to apologise for failing to declare a donation-in-kind of private polling worth £6,000 commissioned by former Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott into Cable’s popularity in his constituency of Twickenham.
The polling first came to light in May 2014 when it was leaked to the Guardian alongside other polls commissioned by Oakeshott which suggested the party would do better with Cable as leader and that Nick Clegg was likely to lose his seat in Sheffield Hallam at the next election.
The parliamentary standards commissioner ruled that the Liberal Democrat business secretary broke parliamentary regulations by not declaring within 28 days the donation of the Twickenham polling. There is no suggestion in the ruling that Cable knew about the other polls. The report is the result of a six-month investigation by Kathryn Hudson, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, into the affair.
In a statement, Cable said: “There was a short delay in registering one donation to my campaign. I have apologised to the commissioner, she has accepted and the matter is now closed.”
The news comes at the end of a week in which Cable was dropped as the Liberal Democrat chief economic spokesperson – a position he has held since 2003 – in favour of Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury. On Thursday, Cable seemed not to have accepted the decision, saying in the Commons: “I remain as our economic spokesman, but that’s a minor internal question.”
Writing in Liberal Democrat Voice, Cable denounced George Osborne’s proposals for further deep spending cuts over the next parliament as damaging and ideologically inspired, in an apparent attempt to differentiate himself from Alexander, who is thought by some to be too close to the chancellor.
“Being in coalition means that we have to go out of our way to differentiate ourselves clearly from the Tories on the central issue of economic policy,” he wrote.
Oakeshott resigned from the Liberal Democrats in May 2014, when the polls were leaked. In what was interpreted as an attempt to topple Clegg as leader, Oakeshott warned that the party was “heading for disaster” under his leadership.
Cable said he had “absolutely no knowledge, and was certainly not involved, in any commissioning of surveys done in Sheffield Hallam [Clegg’s constituency] and Inverness [Alexander’s constituency],” but admitted that the peer had conducted private polling in his own constituency.
In Oakeshott’s resignation letter he referred to the polling in Cable’s constituency, saying that the purpose of it was to “show us [Cable’s] current position and how best to get him re-elected” and that Cable had requested that a question on what would happen if the party changed its leader was removed.
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