'I can't stand him': Clegg overheard attacking team

Defeated leadership rival among targets of leader's unguarded remarks

Nick Clegg is certain to cast a suspicious gaze at his fellow travellers the next time he boards an plane. As the Liberal Democrat leader flew from London to Inverness last week, he shot the breeze with his closest adviser over the merits of his front bench team.

In a stroke of desperately bad luck for Mr Clegg, the seat in front was occupied by a journalist who listened agog to Mr Clegg's candid assessment of his colleagues as he speculated over reshuffling them.

Details of the conversation, reported in full, gory detail in the Sunday Mirror yesterday, made uncomfortable reading for senior Liberal Democrats yesterday. The episode left Mr Clegg ringing round his shadow cabinet to massage battered egos and reassure them their places around his top table were safe.

According to the paper, he had damning words for three of his most high-profile frontbenchers as he travelled on a 90-minute flight from London to Inverness with his chief of staff, Danny Alexander. With reporter Adam Lee-Potter eavesdropping, he reportedly said of Steve Webb, his energy and climate change spokesman: "He's a problem. I can't stand the man. We need a new spokesman. We have to move him. We need someone with good ideas. At the moment, they just don't add up." But he added: "We need to keep him in the cabinet. As a backbencher, he'd be a pain in the arse, a voice for the left. And we can't move him before the spring."

Mr Alexander then suggested: "How about Webb for foreign?" Mr Clegg replied: "He'd be useless. And he wouldn't do it." He then signalled that Julia Goldsworthy could be switched from her brief as communities and local government spokeswoman. He said: "We have to move her too. She gets patronised. And we can't give her Foreign. She's just not equipped to do it."

The Sunday Mirror also reported that Mr Clegg had harsh words for Chris Huhne, whom he beat for the party leadership and who is now home affairs spokesman. Mr Clegg said his former rival would not be suitable for the climate change post as the party needed someone "more emotionally intelligent" for the job and speculated about demoting him.

He even remarked that his ally, David Laws, who is the children, schools and families spokesman, was not enjoying his brief. Mr Clegg said: "The Tories have left him no space. But he's got a forensic intelligence; he's probably the best brain we have."

After the Sunday Mirror printed details of the in-flight conversation, Mr Clegg rang Mr Webb personally to reassure him he was an invaluable member of the team. In a brief statement, Mr Webb said he had had a "friendly conversation" with his leader. He added: "He has confirmed to me that the newspaper report doesn't accurately reflect his views." Mr Clegg's spokeswoman confirmed that other front-benchers named had also been contacted by his office.

The Liberal Democrat leader attempted to play down the row on BBC1's Politics Show. He said: "I, as every senior politician in this country, read every week articles claiming about what I've done or said, or even what I think. Almost all of them are widely inaccurate and this one, I mean, a lot of it is, just frankly, fiction."

His spokeswoman said: "We are not going to go into a forensic analysis of an overheard conversation on a very noisy aeroplane. Parts are misleading, others are put-together titbits of conversation. If someone wants to put them into a story, then so be it."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing