Business Secretary Vince Cable has said he had "absolutely no knowledge" of polling carried out in Nick Clegg's constituency by his friend Lord Oakeshott, who quit the Liberal Democrats today. Speaking in China, where he is on a trade visit, Cable said he hoped that, in time, Lord Oakeshott would reconsider his views on the Liberal Democrat party.
But he refuted claims that he had knowledge of controversial polling leaked to newspapers this week amid acute pressure on Clegg following dire election results. He said: "I was not involved in any commissioning of the surveys done in Sheffield Hallam and Inverness and, indeed, I criticised them very severely yesterday."
He continued: "I am here to do a job of work promoting British exports and jobs. I was specifically asked yesterday about the situation in Sheffield Hallam - bear in mind I am at the other side of the world and trying to conduct business on behalf of the British Government, with a seven-hour time delay. I am answering questions as they are put to me."
Cable said Lord Oakeshott was a long-standing friend, with a relationship running over more than 40 years. He said: "I very much regret it has finished up in this way and I regret he has decided to leave the party. I have given a very full and complete explanation of what I knew about these polls. I think the explanation is straightforward.
"We have been through some very bad elections, a lot of people have been very bruised by it. I want to work with my party colleagues to put it back on track. The information released to the press and commissioned about Sheffield Hallam and Inverness was damaging. I knew absolutely nothing about that, I was not involved with it in any way. I made that clear yesterday."
Cable said he "valued" the relationships with his close friends and said the friendship with Lord Oakeshott had been "good over many years". He added: "We have clearly disagreed about the handling of this, I have made that very clear, and I want to make it clear I will continue with my work and I hope he reconsiders his position about the party in due course." Cable said he had "faith" the party could recover from what were "very bad election results".