The senior Lib Dem peer who called for Nick Clegg to stand down is an attention seeker who failed to lift a finger to help during the Eastleigh by-election, according to former party leader Paddy Ashdown.

On Thursday, Lord Oakeshott, a close ally of Vince Cable and a former Treasury spokesman for the Lib Dems, said the party's poor poll ratings suggested Clegg should be replaced by Cable.

However speaking to The Huffington Post UK, Lord Ashdown said the comments from his colleague in the House of Lords were predictable.

"I saw a wonderful tweet today on the subject, which says 'in autumn the leaves fall, the swallows leave and Matthew Oakeshott flaps in squawking from cloud-cuckoo land'," he said.

Attacking Oakeshott's commitment to the party, or lack thereof, during the recent by-election campaign in Eastleigh, Ashdown observed: "He must have been the only party member who didn’t man the phones over Eastleigh."

"Matthew will say these things; it’s his way of getting a bit of attention to himself from time to time. He’s a formidable debater and a very smart guy in a one liner, but the best one liner I heard is the tweet."

In an interview with The House magazine ahead of this weekend's party conference, Oakeshott suggested the time had come for the party to ditch Clegg in order to win back votes. "We need to face facts, there’s quite a lot of complacency going on and self-delusion going on," he said.

He added: "Let's be objective; we have to accept that Nick's ratings are very poor and have been for a long time."

Lib Dem sources have also rejected Ashdown's claim that Oakeshott did not hit the phones during the Eastleigh by-election.

Oakeshott, a former Lib Dem Treasury spokesman, is a close personal friend of Cable and his words are often scrutinised to see if they convey a message from the business secretary.

Asked whether Cable needed to rein in Oakeshott, Ashdown said: "Vince will do what Vince wants to do, it's up to him decide. I think Matthew’s self appointed position as a sort of vicar on Earth for Vince does neither of them any good ... but that’s Vince’s problem."

Ashdown also noted Cable's comments last night in which the business secretary slapped down his ally. Cable said: "Matthew is an independent-minded member of the House of Lords, with his own views. He does not speak for me. His comments were seriously unhelpful."

Clegg, too, dismissed Oakeshott's criticisms of his leadership. The deputy prime minister told LBC radio on Friday morning: "He tends to always do so like clockwork at this time of year. When it's conference and the weather turns bad, up pops Matthew Oakeshott with some disobliging remarks about me,"

On Friday a YouGov poll published on the eve of the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow showed the party continued to trail behind Ukip, in fourth place in the polls - garnering just 8% of public support compared to 13% for Ukip.

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