Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has tried to play down reports of rifts within the Government amid fresh disclosures that Liberal Democrat ministers had 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.
The 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 insisted that the matter had been dealt with.
“I think now Vince and the Government can move on and that is the end of it,” he told reporters as he left his London home.
He also sought to play down the comments by his fellow ministers – including Mr Moore who said that cutting Child Benefit for higher-rate taxpayers was “blatantly not a consistent and fair thing to do”, Mr Davey who said he was “gobsmacked” by the decision, and Mr Webb who said “the details aren’t right”.
“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.”
There were 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.
John Whittingdale, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said that Mr Cable would “almost certainly” have been sacked if he was a Tory minister. “I’m not happy, but nevertheless I accept that in a coalition we have to do things to keep our partners in the coalition content,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.