Clegg refused to speak to Gove “for months”, told Cameron “life is too short” to continue rowing

Nick Clegg Q&A 19That’s the claim in today’s Independent:

Nick Clegg has refused to speak to Michael Gove “for months”, according to a source close to the Deputy Prime Minister, revealing the extent of the breakdown at the heart of the coalition.

Mr Clegg was involved in a number of vicious stand-offs with Mr Gove over his unpopular, reformist agenda before his shock demotion from Education Secretary to Chief Whip in last week’s reshuffle. The row escalated after the Lib Dems forced through a free school meals policy for five- and six-year-olds last year that was opposed by Mr Gove, who said the department could not afford it.

Mr Clegg is said to have told Prime Minister David Cameron that “life is too short” to continue rowing with Mr Gove and so he was “not going to work through him”.

Instead, the Lib Dem leader would only discuss education policy with the department’s Liberal Democrat minister, David Laws.

The role of Gove’s special adviser, the mercurial Dominic Cummings, also caused problems:

Mr Clegg was “personally incensed” by a belief that Mr Gove’s former adviser Dominic Cummings had dragged Mr Clegg’s wife, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, into the feud.

That’s a reference to a story fed to the Mail on Sunday in 2012 implying some form of scandalous link between Miriam González Durántez’s support for Booktrust and the charity being given a government grant. The Lib Dems were quick to issue an incredibly robust rejection of the paper’s smears.

As Clegg diplomatically noted on his LBC radio show this week:

“I would like to think that with a change of personnel we can now turn the page and instead of denigrating teachers, we can celebrate what many, many teachers across the country do.”

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  • Mark Inskip 20th Jul '14 - 2:28pm

    The problem with these diplomatic comments and and a reluctance to be honest about the gulf between Gove and the vast majority of Lib Dems on education policy is that too many voters miss the distinction.

  • Richard Dean 20th Jul '14 - 4:20pm

    I suppose this is the LibDem spinners in action, but Clegg doesn’t exactly come out well – he’s being painted as both powerless and irresponsible. Powerless to affect policy that matters, and irresponsible to let personal animosity override the need to continue the effort to change policy.

  • Peter Watson 20th Jul '14 - 4:57pm

    @Richard Dean “I suppose this is the LibDem spinners in action, but Clegg doesn’t exactly come out well”
    I think that sums up the Lib Dem leadership’s clumsy implementation of its “differentiation strategy” so far.
    “We didn’t really mean it” or “we’ve changed our minds” seems to risk alienating those who did really mean it while leaving the rest of us scratching our heads and simply not trusting those at the top of the party.

  • Whether Clegg should have said as much is a separate question, but Gove is the type who will keep on arguing until he is the last man standing. A decision not to get drawn in but keep a distance makes a good deal of sense.

  • Nick Clegg has refused to speak to Michael Gove “for months”…

    I dare say there are many ex LibDem councillors who wish he had accorded the electorate the same ‘silent treatment’…

  • peter tyzack 21st Jul '14 - 11:15am

    ‘as far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly…… avoid loud and aggressive persons they are vexatious to the spirit…. ‘… seems to me that Nick was following that guidance well.

  • I still wonder how much of the rift in the education department was either stage-managed differentiation, or simply a case of brainy but abrasive personalities brushing up against each other.

    After all, two years ago, when Michael Gove was pressing on at full speed with his reform programme and David Laws was surveying the scene from his ministerial exile, Laws lavished praise on Gove personally and his reforming agenda.

    He wrote in the Telegraph: “Michael Gove is proving to be one of the best education secretaries of the past 50 years – his programme of higher aspirations, rigorous standards, more school autonomy and effective accountability must continue.”

  • None of this very edifying. One of the reasons the membership is asked to be supportive is to show that Coalitions ‘work’ and that we can rise above political differences etc for the common good. Yet again Clegg undermines what is left of the now very slim set of things we can say to the public about our time in office.

  • Certainly Gove is a bull in a china shop. However, it wasn’t wise of Clegg to self-identify as Gove’s chief enemy. That might well have encouraged spectating Tories to believe that there were two sides to the argument, and that they should be supporting their own side.

    It has finally emerged that Gove makes enemies everywhere, and Cameron has eventually drawn the right conclusion.

  • Alex Sabine 22nd Jul '14 - 3:28pm

    An interesting postscript on Gove: a letter to the Sunday Times signed by 76 people, many of them head teachers of high-performing schools in deprived areas, praising the demoted Education Secretary as ‘a man of great conviction’ who ‘used his tenure to champion opportunities for children and families who too often have little choice’.

    They predict his legacy will include ‘a more rigorous examination system, a more competitive teaching profession and a narrowing of the gap between children in the richest and poorest boroughs’.

    A polarising figure, certainly. But then, as these signatories say, ‘change breeds controversy’. Sometimes he over-reached with his restless activism and taste for intellectual combat, giving ammunition to those who loved to cast him as pantomime villain.

    But the idea that he was universally hated by everyone who matters in education is nonsense. There were plenty who saw method in his ‘madness’, and who – like the Labour-supporting teacher/blogger Andrew Old – fear a ‘drift back to the education establishment calling the shots’ and ‘comfortable acceptance of orthodoxy’. As he put it, ‘I’ve never seen Gove’s willingness to cause a row to be a weakness, more of a necessity. Education is full of people who have exercised power without being challenged.’

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