The "headbangers" in the Conservative party have won an internal battle after David Cameron signalled the "death knell" for moderate Tories by ending the frontbench careers of ministers such as Kenneth Clarke in this week's reshuffle, Nick Clegg has said.
In some of his most aggressive comments about his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrat leader said the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, was sacked to allow the Tories to line up with "tyrants" such as Vladimir Putin in opposing the European convention on human rights.
The deputy prime minister laughed off the demotion of Michael Gove as he accused the former education secretary of creating a "destructive relationship" with teachers.
The Lib Dems have delayed their ministerial reshuffle until the autumn to distance themselves from the Tory changes this week as part of their "differentiation strategy".
Clegg was scathing about Cameron's reshuffle, which in addition to the removal of Clarke and Grieve, also resulted in the departure of the centre-ground ministers Damian Green and David Willetts.
Speaking on his weekly LBC radio phone-in, the deputy prime minister said: "The real significance of this week's Conservative party reshuffle was nothing to do with gender balance. It is all to do with the death knell of the reasonable internationalism of people like Ken Clarke. The headbangers have now won. They are now, in effect, saying that the Conservative party will turn its back on a long, long British tradition of upholding human rights across the world."
Clegg was highly critical of the reported Tory plan to risk Britain's expulsion from Europe's human rights watchdog the Council of Europe by drawing up plans to assert the supremacy of parliament over the European court of human rights. The BBC reported that the Tories were planning to unveil a new bill of rights at their annual conference in the autumn, which would mean that the UK parliament would rule on what constitutes a breach of human rights.
He told LBC: "I have been completely blindsided today by hearing that the Conservatives – extraordinarily enough – want to line up with Vladimir Putin and other tyrants around the world by tearing up our long tradition of human rights."
Clegg added: "What on earth are we going to say to the dictators in Belarus, to Vladimir Putin if we do what the Conservatives now appear to recommend which is we basically say we are going to stamp our little feet and not abide by binding international human rights practices and conventions?
"It is really sad to see a mainstream party like that turning its back on a great longstanding British tradition of standing up internationally for human rights. That is the most immediate knock-on effect of removing people like Dominic Grieve – you have now got a much more extreme view taking root in the heart of the Conservative party."
Clegg dismissed the reported Tory plan to allow parliament to assert its supremacy over the ECHR on human rights. "The moment you say – they are going to get themselves into a terrible twist – that the government of the day, with a significant majority in parliament, can drive through parliament a rewriting of human rights disciplines you are basically accepting that human rights provisions are not universal – that they are pick and choose."
On the sacking of Gove, Clegg chuckled as he wished the new Tory chief whip well. "It is a good moment for us to turn the page on what had become a really destructive relationship between the Department for Education and many, many teachers … [who] felt offended by the way in which Michael Gove or maybe his team appeared to just brand all teachers as a blob – that all teachers were resistant to reform. I thought that was a divide-and-rule approach."
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