Nick Clegg is pandering to lost voters by picking fights with Tories over education, claims Michael Gove

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Michael Gove has accused the Liberal Democrats of picking fights with the Conservatives over education to “pander” to teachers and other voters who have deserted their party.

The Education Secretary hit back after David Laws, the Lib Dem Schools Minister,  criticised him in an interview in The Independent for sacking the Labour peer Sally Morgan as chair of Ofsted and called for the school inspectorate to be given more powers to scrutinise Mr Gove's flagship academy schools.

In a Daily Telegraph podcast, Mr Gove said Nick Clegg had backed the Coalition's  education reforms, but now wants to be seen to oppose them in order to win back the votes of teachers and radicals. “There will be some people in the Lib Dems who will want to emphasise those differences to appeal to a section of the electorate that voted for the Lib Dems in the past, but don't agree with the changes we are making the education system now,” Mr Gove said.

The Education Secretary  accused the Lib Dem leader of being conflicted over education policy, both supporting reforms and pandering to party activists who oppose them.

He said: “Good Nick, the angel one on shoulder, is saying: 'What Gove is doing is socially progressive, socially mobile, and in tune with good old Gladstonian principles'. Wicked Nick, sitting on his other shoulder, is saying 'Yes! But some of your more radical activists dislike it, so pander to them'. He will have to decide whether it's the good or the bad Nick that he indulges.”

Although Mr Gove played down his dispute with Mr Laws, the growing rift between the two Coalition parties on education is another example of how they are “diverging” ahead of next year's general election. Some ministers are worried that public rows over policy will damage both parties by making the Government look shambolic.