Clegg leadership plot: Gove’s ‘crazy grenade’ detonates, briefly, before Tories revert to arguing about Europe

by Stephen Tall on May 12, 2013

Hats off to Mr Gove! With the Tory party in its customary state of internecine warfare over Europe, the education secretary used his interview this morning on The Andrew Marr Show to allege a leadership plot to overthrow Nick Clegg. Here’s PoliticsHome’s account:

Michael Gove has suggested Nick Clegg’s opposition to increasing childminders-toddlers ratio is due to an internal Liberal Democrat plot to unseat him as leader.

Mr Clegg said last week that he was “yet to be persuaded” by the case for allowing staff to look after more children.

However Mr Gove today said the reforms, which were defended by DfE minister Elizabeth Truss last week, were “absolutely right”, and alleged that Mr Clegg’s hand was being forced by the manoeuvres of Lib Dem peer Matthew Oakeshott.

“I don’t think that we can understand Nick Clegg’s position without also appreciating the position that he’s in because of internal Lib Dem politics,” the Education Secretary told the Andrew Marr Show.

“There’s a campaign at the moment being led by Matthew Oakeshott… to try to destabilise Nick Clegg because Matthew Oakeshott wants Vince Cable to succeed him.”

It took about 5 minutes for my phone to go with the BBC saying they wanted an interview to discuss the plot. So I guess it was job done from Michael Gove’s point of view.

Now it’s certainly the case that Nick Clegg’s leadership is under pressure within the party. Our most recent members’ survey showed him with negative personal ratings for only the second time.

But an active plot that’s a serious threat to Nick Clegg right now? No, not to the best of my knowledge. Nor Olly Grender’s (and she’s in a far better position than me to know):

When I was interviewed a few minutes ago on Radio 5 Live, Tim Montgomerie (on with me) said all Michael Gove had made public was what Tories were saying behind closed doors: that Nick Clegg agrees to policies in private then opposes them in public. Well, read the BBC’s James Landale’s take on the behind-the-scenes row over childcare ratios and judge for yourselves:

The row over childcare deepens. I have obtained a copy of an exchange of letters between childcare minister Liz Truss and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, last December.

It makes clear that Ms Truss flagged up the change in ratios of carers to children as “the most high profile of my proposals”. Mr Clegg in his reply just before Christmas gives her the clearance to press ahead with the consultation as long as it proved affordable within the Education department’s budgets.

Some Tory sources ask why Mr Clegg did not raise his concerns about safety and impracticality at the time. They also claim that Mr Clegg agreed to the new childcare ratios and it was simply the new levels of qualifications that were up for consultation.

But the Lib Dems insist that Mr Clegg signed up to a consultation, not a policy, and they are simply responding to the concerns many thousands of people have raised. It was never disputed, they say, that Mr Clegg backed the consultation.

I should give the BBC their due, though. They allowed me a few seconds to make these points — and then it was back to the Tories’ position on Europe, the referendum, et cetera. So normal order has been restored. As you were.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.