Nick Clegg has been accused by Michael Gove of opposing childcare reforms purely in an effort to strengthen his position as Liberal Democrat leader, following mounting dissent within his party. This is from the Guardian…
In a mischievous attack on the deputy prime minister on Sunday, the education secretary said Clegg “has to show a bit of leg” because the Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott was leading an effort to replace him with Vince Cable.
Lib Dems countered with claims that Gove’s attack has more to do with his own leadership ambitions and a need to distract from Tory divisions over Europe.
The row follows Clegg’s criticism last week of plans to loosen staff-to-child ratios in nurseries – part of a package of nursery reforms championed by the education minister, Liz Truss.
Truss has argued that the changes would lower childcare costs and allow professionals in the sector to be paid more. But Clegg said he still shared concerns expressed by many groups in a consultation exercise and questioned claims that the policy would result in cheaper childcare for parents.
Gove told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “I don’t think we can understand Nick Clegg’s position without also appreciating the position he is in because of internal Lib Dem politics.
“There is a campaign being led by Matthew Oakeshott, this Liberal Democrat in the Lords, to try to destabilise Nick Clegg because Matthew Oakeshott wants Vince Cable to succeed him. Nick, understandably, needs to show Lib Dems that he is fighting hard.
“I understand. That’s one of the things that happen in coalition. We have had discussions with Nick in the past where we haven’t always had the same starting position but in the end, because he is a reasonable guy, we have managed to find an appropriate synthesis.
“I think he would appreciate that the logic of what Liz wants to achieve is formidable. Of course, if there needs to be an adjustment here or there in order to make sure that it works for everyone. We will consider that.
“Lord Oakeshott is on manoeuvres, he is trying to promote Vince. It is understandable that within the Lib Dems these things go on. Nick has to show a bit of leg, as it were, on these issues.”
Ministers set out the plans to bring down Britain’s high nursery costs in January after months of wrangling between the coalition parties. They were described as a way of boosting the economy by allowing more parents to work.
The changes, due to come into force in September, would see the rules altered to allow one adult to care for four under-ones rather than the present limit of three. The ratio for two-year-olds would rise from four per adult to six. Asked last week during his phone-in show on LBC 97.3 if the prime minister was aware of his concerns, Clegg said: “We have been talking about this for weeks and weeks.”
Truss has argued that the changes would lower childcare costs and allow professionals in the sector to be paid higher salaries. Clegg said looking after four two-year-olds was “already quite a handful”.