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

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 was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Nicola Prigg 12th May '13 - 11:36am

    Regards, the leadership plot – there is no plot. Oakeshott threw the kitchen sink at Clegg and Clegg’s still standing.

    As for the letters, if you read both, they seem to be talking about different things. Liz Truss seems to be talking about concrete proposals and government policy she wants to announce in January whilst Nick Clegg just talks about a consultation in his letter. So it looks like a case of miscommunication to me.

  • Oakshott, Gove – but where is Opik ?

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th May '13 - 1:27pm

    it’s interesting the reaction to Gove’s deliberate stirring this morning. Comments focus on Matthew Oakeshott’s bid to oust Clegg.

    The real spotlight should be on Gove and his ability to divide people so easily – those with him (teachers apparently – news to me) and those against him (the Hard Left – who? where? and teaching unions) – those for Nick Clegg and those against. All those against – those who like children to fail, and read trashy books/ Lib Dem plotters – those for – sensible, reasonable and in favour of rigour and high standards.

    Okay, Michael Gove has superficial charm – he is quite likeable on the surface but listen closely – it’s classic Tory divide and rule and add to that a deep chip on the shoulder over his background and upbringing.

    To my mind, he is a dangerous and manipulative individual, who just happens to an arch-Thatcherite.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th May '13 - 1:30pm

    Correction to final sentence on Gove: “…who just happens to be an arch-Thatcherite.”

  • Are you really suggesting the Liberal Democrats are united behind Clegg?

    Gove’s attempt to distract works because he is simply pointing out the obvious, Clegg, like Cameron, is a divisive leader who does not have the support of large parts of his party who worry that he is leading them into oblivion.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 12th May '13 - 3:27pm

    It may be fanciful on my part but I suspect that all of this Tory manoEUvring by Gove, Lawson and Portillo is intended to bring about a vote of no confidence by the Tories in their own coalition. The amendment to The Queen’s Speech will be opposed by the Liberal Democrats and Labour and it will fail. A private member’s bill to introduce an in out referendum will also be opposed by the Lib Dems and Labour and will fail. The way is then open for the Tory Referendum rebels to do the unthinkable and call a vote of no confidence in their own coalition. The sine qua non for pulling out of a five year fixed term parliament. The vote of no confidence would probably succeed for it would be supported by a large group of Tories and, of course, Labour, leaving the Lib Dems isolated. Result: quick general election. The Tories see no reason for continuing the coalition, anyway, now that they’ve lost the boundary changes: the only reason they went into coalition in my view. That’s why the narrative currently running is that Clegg pulled out of the reduced child care ratios because he is afraid of his party’s response . But really it’s to send out signals from important people on the Tory side that they believe the coalition is completely unworkable because of the Lib Dem s in the Lords and on the back benches. Best to get rid of the barnacles now.

  • Tony Dawson 12th May '13 - 3:32pm

    @paul barker:

    “Oakshott, Gove – but where is Opik ?”

    Out on the tiles with Nigel, you cheeky boy!

  • Nicola Prigg :

    Regards, the leadership plot – there is no plot.

    And no leadership!

  • I thought the 5 year fixed term parliament meant that an early election could not be called.

    I thought that if a vote of no confidence was made on the current coalition, then the Tories would have 14 day’s to try and form another government, If they failed then Labour would be given the chance to form a government.

    Only then, if no parties are able to form a government would an early election be called.

    I might be wrong and probably am lol, but i thought that was the whole idea of introducing the 2011 parliament act

  • @Olly Grender:

    “Oakshott tried everything and failed months ago”

    At least he tried. Can you say the same for Nick Clegg?

  • Jim Edwards 12th May '13 - 5:23pm

    Labour ministers sticking with the very unpopular Gordon Brown after Purnell resigned on the night of local elections in 2009 consigned them to a heavy defeat. The Lib Dems sticking with the widely disliked and discredited Clegg and not replacing very soon will see a similar fate. There is still enough time to replace, clear the decks in the minds of the public, and go into the next election in a year or more with a far better chance against a weak and divided tories and unconvincing Labour.

    Stick with Clegg and there will no advantage gained. The nonsense about appearing mature and capable of government by following the tories has utterly failed in the minds of the public. It’s always claimed the electorate will come around to that. Over 3 years and no sign whatsoever.

  • paul barker 12th May '13 - 6:17pm

    Yes, therte are many Libdems who dont support Clegg & there are many like me who think his overall strategy is right. Of course most comments will be from those who are unhappy, perhaps that what led Oakshott into beleiving he might get some support for his Coup.

  • Mick Taylor 12th May '13 - 6:20pm

    Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act an early GE can only take place if 2/3 of the HoC vote for an early election.

    A vote of no confidence, even if passed would not by itself force a general election . What would happen is as mentioned earlier, there would be a period of 14 days during which the parties would have to try and form a government. Only if no government could be formed and obtain a vote of confidence in 14 days would an early election be held.

    Fixed term parliaments introduced by the 2011 act mean the next election will be in May 2015, though it can be delayed in certain very specific circumstances by up to 2 months.

    Quite a few MPs, political commentators and conspiracy theorists haven’t yet realised what the change in the law means. Far from the Lib Dems being helpless were a no confidence motion to succeed, they would be crucial in any discussions to form a new government. The reality is that a motion of no confidence is unlikely to be passed unless the Lib Dems themselves vote for it. Any Tory MP who voted for a motion of no confidence in defiance of a 3 line whip would be unlikely to have a future in the Tory Party, especially if the Tory Party lost the election or failed to gain a majority as seems highly likely.

  • There would be an early election if two-thirds of parliament voted for one. Given that no opposition could credibly vote against holding an election without looking utterly ridiculous the prime minister does in effect retain the power to call an election under the Fixed Parliament Act. Of course it is unlikely to happen while Tory chances of victory look slim.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 12th May '13 - 7:33pm


    “Of course it is unlikely to happen while Tory chances of victory look slim.”

    But they might decide that their chances would be decidedly slimmer by remaining in coalition. Particularly if the rebels shot UKIP’s fox by forcing a vote on an in-out referendum followed by a vote of no-confidence or a motion for an early general election. Do you really think Labour would form a government with the Lib Dems in such a febrile atmosphere? Particularly when Labour was being characterised as the party that stopped the British people getting their referendum. Anyway, the arithmetic’s not right for a Labour/Lib/Dem coalition. The Tories could then go to the country and look forward to receiving a substantial number of UKIP’s votes. Isn’t that why a hundred Tory MPs are preparing the ground now by demanding a referendum on gay marriage?

  • There is no realistic leadership bid because the next leader of the LibDems has not yet been elected an MP, and Clegg is keeping the place warm for him/her. Shh, did I say who it is already?

    Although I’m not a big fan I still recognise that huge credit is due to Clegg – he has been leader only a year less than Charlie Kennedy and has had far more positive influence on government policy in a period with a much tougher political environment. His fortitude and resolve is admirable.

  • Presumably the plan that Gove referred to: to negotiate changes to the EU and/or more opt outs for the UK followed by a referendum mean that a further coalition with the Tories is impossible. Lib Dems would not want a Cameron led negotiation nor much of the stuff he would want to change (think of removing employment rights and reducing standards of work, for example).

    Lib Dems would not want a referendum choice between leaving the EU and voting for an outcome to negotiations that Lib Dems would be likely to oppose.

    Moreover any government in place in 2017, when the referendum is supposed to be held is most likely to be very unpopular, which would surely derail the referendum issue in any case.

    Like many in the Tory party, Gove happily says that he does not like the relationship between the UK and the EU, but fails to spell out any specific issues, either because he cannot or he knows that his stance would be unpopular (who wants lorry drivers and doctors to be able to work until they fall asleep on the job?).

  • David Allen 12th May '13 - 9:30pm

    Gove is obviously playing nasty games. It seems as if he wants to raise the spectre of a challenge to Clegg only to have it shot down again. The aim may well be to make any challenge look like the work of a single isolated individual, and thus to head off the risk that it might become a real and widespread challenge. Clegg is, of course, a godsend to the Conservatives.

    As with most political gamesmanship, it can only work if the gamesman’s provocations contain a smidgen of the truth. Certainly Clegg has moved to adopt an activist-friendly policy in the wake of our drubbing at the local elections, and certainly he has reason to run for cover in such circumstances. What we Lib Dems should fear is that, when the heat is off, our leader will revert back to his Orange Book principles.

  • “Although I’m not a big fan I still recognise that huge credit is due to Clegg – he has been leader only a year less than Charlie Kennedy and has had far more positive influence on government policy in a period with a much tougher political environment. His fortitude and resolve is admirable.”

    I think the strategy of saying things like “I’m not a big fan of Clegg but I do recognise that he bestrides the narrow world like a colossus” is a bit transparent.

    For my money he’s not worthy to untie Charles Kennedy’s sandals.

  • Its rather a shame that in all the horsetrading we didnt sort this proposal out at the correct stage. Anyone blessed with more intelligence than an amoeba knows that looking after 6 2 year olds in anything other than a padded room is likely to be unsafe. Clegg never should have supported this daft measure. Sometimes things cost what they cost, a sackful of MPs who’ve had more nannies than Ive had hot dinners are demonstrably the wrong people to make this call.

  • Not that I believe it would happen, but would a successful vote of no confidence terminate the Coalition Agreement, requiring a new one to be negotiated?

  • @David

    “but would a successful vote of no confidence terminate the Coalition Agreement, requiring a new one to be negotiated?”

    The way I understand it, there are a couple of outcomes

    If a Vote of no confidence was passed.

    (1) The Tories would be first given the opportunity to form a new government, They could seek a “new” coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats.
    If a deal could not be reached
    (2) Labour would be given the opportunity to form a new government. They could seek a coalition with Lib Dems and would need the support of other parties {SNP, Plaid etc}
    If a deal could not be reached
    (3) The Tories could then seek to run a minority government with Lib Dem support on a confidence and supply agreement.
    Any of the agreements above have to win a confidence vote by the house.

    If Non of these agreements can be negotiated then an early election would be called.

    The only thing that can bypass all this and cause an immediate election is if a “supply” bill was defeated in the house i.e {budget} this automatically requires the resignation of the government or dissolution of Parliament.

  • @JanetKing – “where does UKIP come into a discussion on child care???”

    Isn’t their policy on child care “Hang ’em and flog ’em” ?


  • Liberal Democrats who want to unhorse Nick Clegg have the wrong target in their sights. The reason this party is so unpopular is not because of Nick Clegg’s leadership, it’s the result of the coalition. If we want to survive as a party, we have to end the coalition and we have to end it yesterday. If and when we do that, Nick Clegg will go. So there’s no need to destabilise the party by plotting against his leadership. Anyway, just what would be the point of trashing one of our great assets – Vince Cable – by substituting him for Nick Clegg? Would Vince make the party any less disliked? Would his reputation survive even a week’s mauling by the print media? Would he do any better job at standing up to Cameron and the growing menace of an outside right that is about as rampant in the Tory party in Westminster as it is in the saloon bars of Broadstairs? Plotting against leaders is for student hacks. Getting out of unnatural parliamentary relationships and reasserting one’s identity as a campaigning radical movement are the immediate priorities for serious left-of-centre liberals who want to offer the electorate a real alternative to the two establishment parties and the outside right.

  • David White 17th May '13 - 1:29pm

    I’ve long been convinced that the secretary of state for Health should arrange to have the patently unwell Mr Gove removed to a secure psychiatric care unit.

    But, on second thoughts, maybe Mental Michael should be left to roam free, to kill Call Me Dave.

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