Nick Clegg: I stopped talking to Michael Gove during time in coalition

Michael Gove Pondering

Nick Clegg has revealed how his relationship with Michael Gove deteriorated so much while in government that he told No 10 he was no longer prepared to talk to him.

In an extract from his memoirs – Politics: Between the Extremes, which is serialised in the Guardian – the former deputy prime minister says he told David Cameron he would end all personal dealings with Gove, and that the news “didn’t seem to come as much of a surprise” because the then prime minister also had difficulties with the Gove team.

Clegg also accuses Gove – who was education secretary for the majority of the coalition government – of putting dogma ahead of the interests of pupils when he axed the Connexions careers advice service but refused to give schools instructions how to compensate for it because he did not want to compromise their autonomy.

The former Lib Dem leader admits Gove, who was demoted to chief whip in 2014, could be witty and was “charm personified” when they had dinner together near Clegg’s home in Putney soon after the coalition was formed.

But they clashed over policy, and Clegg became particularly irritated by media briefings done by Gove’s advisers.

“A little over three years [after the Putney dinner] our relationship had soured to the point that he banned Lib Dem special advisers from physically entering the Department for Education, hid on one occasion in the toilet to avoid speaking to David Laws, and let loose his somewhat unhinged advisers to brief against me, and even against Miriam, in the press,” Clegg writes.

“On one of the last occasions I spoke to him in government, I asked him to come and see me in my office. He was keen to be accompanied by his assistant, but I insisted we meet alone, as I wanted to deliver a blunt message.

“Once we were alone, I asked him how he would react if someone on my behalf wilfully lied about his wife in the newspapers? [Miriam had, ludicrously, been accused in the Mail on Sunday by one of Michael Gove’s advisers of seeking a Whitehall contract for a children’s book charity – the contract had in fact been decided by Number 10.] He mumbled that he thought he ‘knew what had happened’. I was livid.”

Clegg says he told Cameron soon afterwards that he was not prepared to “waste [his] time working with Michael Gove” and that Laws, the Lib Dem schools minister, would do so on his behalf.

“Given how much No 10 clearly loathed Gove’s principal adviser at the time and were as exasperated as I was by his occasional public outbursts, this didn’t seem to come as much of a surprise to Cameron,” Clegg writes.

Clegg does not name Gove’s principal aide, but he is referring to Dominic Cummings, a maverick special adviser who subsequently served as campaign director for Vote Leave, the main leave campaign in the EU referendum. Cummings has in the past publicly described Clegg as “dishonest” and “revolting”.

Clegg criticises Gove’s advisers for giving negative briefings to newspapers about the plan to give free school meals to all infant pupils – a proposal championed by the Lib Dems, and implemented by Gove’s own department.

But Clegg is also scathing about Gove’s decision to scrap the national Connexions careers service soon after the coalition came into office. The move would have been justified if a replacement had been put in place, Clegg says, but “Gove had a personal bee in his bonnet against any publicly organised careers advice and guidance of any description”.

Clegg adds: “So once the Connexions service was scrapped, nothing happened. Hundreds of thousands of youngsters were left in limbo without any properly organised support – other than that provided by individual schools – to make excruciatingly difficult decisions about their future educational, vocational and professional futures.

“Apparently, according to Gove’s orthodoxy at the time, any requirement imposed upon schools to provide meaningful careers advice and guidance was regarded as a breach of the sacrosanct autonomy of schools. The push to spread ‘academy’ autonomy to schools had become a weird dogma, which risked depriving youngsters of exactly the kind of help they needed to make the difficult journey from the world of education into the world of work.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Andrew Sparrow Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 4th September 2016 17.18 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010