'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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1 by Georgia O'Keeffe
art
Sport
Robin van Persie leaves the field at the King Power Stadium last Sunday
football
Arts and Entertainment
tvPresenter back after daughter's Halloween accident
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock
tv

Co-creator Mark Gatiss dropped some very intriguing hints ahead of the BBC drama's return next year

News
people

London 'needs affordable housing'

News
In this photo illustration, the Twitter logo and hashtag '#Ring!' is displayed on a mobile device as the company announced its initial public offering and debut on the New York Stock Exchange on November 7, 2013 in London, England. Twitter went public on the NYSE opening at USD 26 per share, valuing the company's worth at an estimated USD 18 billion.
news

Arts and Entertainment
Timeshift: The Ladybird Books Story (9pm BBC4 Sun 22 Dec)
BooksLadybird drops branding books for boys and girls
Arts and Entertainment
music Band accidentally drops four-letter description at concert
Life and Style
tech
News
peopleIan Thorpe addresses Ricky Martin rumours
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: Female Support Workers / Carers - From £8.00 per hour

£8 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To assist a young family with the care ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

£55000 - £70000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world lead...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world leading services pr...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines