24 Mar 2011

Clegg in ‘too close to Tories for comfort’ gaffe

The Deputy Prime Minister leader is overheard bemoaning how close he has become to David Cameron. Is this Nick Clegg’s ‘bigotgate’?

Nick Clegg and David Cameron in Nottingham

Nick Clegg has let slip how close he and David Cameron have become in a remark that will unsettle grassroots Lib Dem and Conservative supporters.

The Deputy Prime Minister’s jokey remark was picked up by microphones as Mr Clegg left a question-and-answer session with Mr Cameron in the East Midlands today.

As the two men walked out of the venue, Mr Clegg, who apparently failed to realise his lapel microphone was switched on, said: “If we keep doing this we won’t find anything to bloody disagree on in the bloody TV debate.”

Read more from Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon

The gaffe recalls Gordon Brown’s “bigotgate” episode during last year’s General Election campaign, when the then-Prime Minister was unwittingly recorded calling Labour voter Gillian Duffy a “bigoted woman”.

Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron were at the headquarters of Boots Nottingham after the announcement that the area will be one of the new enterprise zones.

A small group of people from the crowd of nearly 100 employees were present as the former political enemies engaged in a 40-minute question and answer session.

Asked about where the country would be in 2015, when the parties will be gearing up for the next election, Mr Cameron said:”I’m sure there will probably be television debates.

He quipped: “We hope they will be a little bit better-natured between us.”

Moments later the Deputy Prime Minister can be heard making his remarks while still on the microphone.

Mr Cameron laughed at the remark – but there will be people in Mr Clegg’s party who fail to see the joke.

Anxiety among the Lib Dem rank-and-file about the closeness between Prime Minister and Deputy has been growing since the Coalition Government was formed – amid fears that the united front on policy typically presented by Mr Cameron and his deputy could hurt the Lib Dems at the ballot box.

The Tory right have also expressed unease and former Conservative Leadership contender David Davis infamously described the arrangement between Cameron and Clegg as a “Brokeback Coalition.”

The two men have tried to emphasise the harmony between them ever since they first laughed off their personal and political differences at their first news conference together in the Downing Street rose garden.

But it soon became apparent that Labour was seeking to capitalise on dissatisfaction with the Coalition among the junior partners.

Last year Liberal Democrat left-wingers revealed they had been approached by Labour and invited to change parties.

Ed Miliband said: “I am definitely putting the welcome mat out for anyone who wants to join the Labour party, particularly ex-Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg has rather revealed himself as a kind of Tory, very close to being a Tory.”

Then Vince Cable was recorded by undercover reporters for the Daily Telegraph admitting: “There is a constant battle going on behind the scenes…sometimes between us and the Conservatives.”

A poll for Lib Dem Voice earlier this year found that 86 per cent of members oppose another electoral pact with the Conservatives at the next election.