Nick Clegg: 'We have put back cabinet meetings so we can take our children to school'

The coalition's honeymoon is over. But the deputy PM's relationship with David Cameron is stronger than ever, he tells Nigel Morris

After a weekend handling the first crisis to engulf the coalition Government, Nick Clegg spent Bank Holiday Monday dealing with more domestic matters.

Just before midnight on Sunday he was still on the telephone to Danny Alexander, who had been hurriedly promoted to the Treasury following David Laws's dramatic departure from the fledgling administration.

But Monday had been set aside for family time in the Clegg household. He took his young sons to a nearby funfair, and spent the evening with his wife, Miriam, at Covent Garden Opera House to celebrate her birthday. Inside the couple's smart white stuccoed Georgian house in south-west London there is no visible evidence that it is home to the Deputy Prime Minister.

There are no red boxes in sight. Instead there is Lego – lots of it – covering the floor and table in the conservatory.

Mr Clegg, dressed in a casual shirt and jeans, insists he is determined to keep family life and government work as separate as humanly possible.

In this aim he has found an ally in the Prime Minister, who is also the father of small children. Both agreed to change the timing of a cabinet meeting to fit in with the school run. "I try – I haven't entirely succeeded yet – as much as I can to take the kids to school," he says before adding: "To walk them to school."

"In a sense I'm very lucky because David Cameron has young children. We agreed the other day we were going to slightly delay the start of the cabinet meeting to allow us both to take our children to school, which is a reflection – if any was needed – of the fact that we are both of the same generation in this new politics." He adds that he is "very rigid in saying 'no' to endless dinner invitations, to try to make sure I'm back home regularly to put the kids to bed".

Mr Clegg admits he did not know his political partner at all before they carved out Britain's first coalition administration since the Second World War. He still does not describe Mr Cameron, who once said the Liberal Democrat leader was his "favourite political joke", as a friend, instead preferring "partners in government" to describe their relationship.

The Deputy Prime Minister admits that they are yet to settle into a regular working pattern – not least because Mr Cameron has been busy visiting Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Paris and Berlin.

But he adds: "We speak every day, if not several times a day – it's a very strong working partnership. We have each other's mobiles, BlackBerries, emails.

"We work quickly – we are able to arrive at difficult decisions quickly. We understand the constraints we are both working under and we're very pragmatic and workmanlike about the fact our partnership is absolutely essential in making sure the coalition works."

He will be sitting alongside Mr Cameron today as the Tory leader takes his first Prime Minister's Question Time, but is not optimistic that it will mark an end to "Punch and Judy politics".

He says: "The architectural antagonism of the chamber, the way that people are banked up against each other, will ensure there is plenty of yah-boo across the despatch box."

Mr Clegg, who was on a brief weekend break with his wife in Paris when the Laws crisis broke, describes the downfall of his Liberal Democrat colleague as a "tragedy". But he insists there could be a route back into the office for him – provided Mr Laws wants to return and provided he is given a clean bill of health by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, who is examining the Yeovil MP's expenses claims.

Mr Clegg discloses that Mr Laws, who he describes as a very close friend, has already briefed his successor, Mr Alexander, on the task before him as he wields the spending axe.

"That's a demonstration of David Laws's maturity and courage that even as he's dealing with a lot of difficult personal issues he is able to work so co-operatively with Danny in making sure there's a smooth handover.

"But it's also [a demonstration] of the urgency I feel, David Cameron feels, we all feel, in making sure we don't miss a step in setting out our stall as we will do in the Budget about how we can help repair the immense damage to our public finances."

He even claims the crisis has strengthened the coalition because it had to pull together in unexpected adversity. "The key thing is the Government remains absolutely on track in what we set out to do in our coalition agreement and that is unaffected by the weekend's events. If anything, in a strange kind of way, the internal cohesion of a government – of any government, never mind a coalition – is often strengthened by how it reacts to unexpected setbacks and I think that is probably true in this case as well."

He promises that his party will not be squeezed out of the Westminster limelight by its bigger coalition partner, revealing that he will face half an hour of questions at Deputy Prime Minister's Question Time every few weeks and promising he will make himself regularly available to Commons select committees.

"I am very keen the Liberal Democrat voice should continue to be heard in Parliament and it will be," he insists.

"Of course people have concerns, people want to make sure our values and principles are properly reflected in the way we now govern." Mr Clegg seems resigned to problems crowding in on the coalition as it grapples with balancing the nation's books.

"Things are going to get tough and there is going to be a lot of pressure on the coalition because we couldn't have thought of a more difficult set of circumstances from the previous government.

"We are trying to balance many things all at once, we're trying to square many circles all at once. That is going to be difficult. And there is a natural idiom in the way politics is portrayed which will constantly encourage stories in the press about splits and tensions."

But he insists that the divisions between the coalition parties – characterised last week by the diverging views towards raising capital gains tax between the Liberal Democrat left and the Tory right – can be a source of strength in an era of "new politics".

Mr Clegg says: "That is one of the unintended consequences of coalition government that you will have more open and public debate. I think over time people will recognise that as a strength because it will lead to more transparent politics."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map