Clegg fights coalition rift reports

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Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has played down talks of a rift between the Lib Dems and their coalition partners

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has been forced to fend off reports of rifts within the coalition amid fresh disclosures that Liberal Democrat ministers have privately criticised coalition policies.

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, Business Minister Ed Davey and Pensions Minister Steve Webb were caught on tape by undercover reporters from the Daily Telegraph speaking out against a range of Government positions.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said their comments had exposed the “sham” of coalition politics, with Lib Dem ministers saying one thing in public and something very different in private.

The latest revelations came after Business Secretary Vince Cable was humiliatingly stripped of his responsibilities for the media after he claimed to have “declared war” on Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

Mr Clegg said that Mr Cable’s comments had been “very unfortunate”, but he insisted that the matter had been dealt with.

He also sought to play down the comments by his fellow Lib Dem ministers who criticised the decisions to scrap child benefit for higher-rate taxpayers, cut housing benefit and increase university tuition fees.

“I don’t think we should be surprised about the reports of what other ministers have said – that there are differences of opinion in a coalition, as there are indeed in all governments,” Mr Clegg said.

“The most important thing is that we get on and work together in the coalition Government to fix the mess that we have inherited from Labour. That is what people expect from us and that’s exactly what we are doing.”

Mr Miliband, however, said that it is clear that “the cracks are starting to widen” in the coalition ranks. “These are decisions of a Conservative-led Government propped up by Liberal Democrat passengers. Passengers not in the front seat, not even in the back seat of the car, but passengers who have got themselves locked in the boot,” he said.

There have been signs of unease within the Tory ranks at the latest criticisms from Lib Dem ministers, with some senior Conservatives complaining that Mr Cable had only kept his job for the sake of coalition unity. Tory John Whittingdale claimed Mr Cable would “almost certainly” have been sacked if he was a Conservative minister.

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