Clegg's mother of all rows with Gina Ford

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Nick Clegg is embroiled in a row with Britain's best-known childcare guru after he likened her methods to "sticking babies in broom cupboards".

The Liberal Democrat leader, who has three children, described Gina Ford's methods, which encourage parents to have strict bath, bed and feeding routines for their newborns, as "absolute nonsense". Her regime even recommends that parents do not look their baby in the eye during night-time feeds in case they "excite" the child. Speaking about trying to follow the advice in Ford's book, The Contented Little Baby Book – the bestselling childcare guide in the last 10 years – Mr Clegg said: "It was like following a sort of Ikea assembly instruction manual. It made us feel strangely passive as parents."

Asked about the sleeping patterns of his 10-month-old son Miguel, he said: "Don't get me on to Gina Ford. With our first one, we religiously followed Gina Ford. Instructions like, stick him in a broom cupboard at 7.46am. At 7.48am, take him out, do not look at him ... Absolute nonsense."

Ford immediately hit back, suggesting Mr Clegg had insulted millions of parents who use her methods. The former maternity nurse suggested his party should think about finding a different leader. "What is sad about this statement is that it comes from a supposedly intelligent man who would have us believe he is capable of running Britain," she said.

Ford was involved in a libel action against the owners of the Mumsnet website in 2006 over remarks about her techniques. The case was settled out of court.