Nick Clegg: 'Vince Cable is right to be embarrassed'

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Indy Politics

Vince Cable is "right to be embarrassed" after he made private remarks in which he threatened to bring the Government down by resigning, Nick Clegg said today.

The Deputy Prime Minister used the phrase more than once during a joint end-of-year press conference with Prime Minister David Cameron after the Business Secretary was secretly recorded making the comments.

Mr Cable told undercover reporters from the Daily Telegraph that the situation with the coalition was "like fighting a war" and that he could use the "nuclear option".

He also told the reporters - posing as constituents in his Twickenham constituency - that he believed Mr Cameron wanted to reduce or scrap altogether the winter fuel allowance for pensioners.

Asked by journalists about the comments this morning, Mr Clegg said: "He is embarrassed by what has happened and he is right to be embarrassed."

Mr Cameron said that Mr Cable had been "very apologetic" at this morning's Cabinet and added: "Personally I get on with Vince extremely well."

Mr Clegg said: "My view and his view is that coalition government, any government, can only work effectively over a period of time if the disagreements, which of course exist in a coalition of different parties working together, that those differences are thrashed out in private and then you come to a common solution and then you are united in taking that forward as a coalition Government.

"That is the way this Government is going to work."

Mr Cameron added: "He was very apologetic at Cabinet this morning and I agree with what Nick said, that he had every reason to be (embarrassed).

"But it is true, and some of the things he said about winter fuel payments is not true, but do we in this coalition have disagreements and arguments and then work them out in private and then make an announcement in public? Yes we do.

"I would say judge the coalition on the record of what it has done in terms of the economic programme, the public service reforms, the changes we are making."

Mr Cameron had earlier referred to the way the coalition had been working since they entered office in May. He said: "Of course, it hasn't always been plain sailing. We don't agree on everything. We never said we would. And yes, the political risks are greater when you are in coalition.

"But I believe the rewards for our country of having a strong and stable Government - two parties working together in the national interest - are infinitely greater too.

"I believe this coalition is working well. It is working for Britain. And I think we can build on that success in the months and years ahead."

Mr Cameron said he believed he had a "good and businesslike" relationship with Mr Cable.

"What he said was obviously wrong, he has apologised for that, he was apologetic in Cabinet and I think we should leave it at that. As Nick said, he has got every reason to be apologetic," he said.

He added jokingly: "Is it a relief to find a Lib Dem who is so enthusiastic about nuclear weapons? That is another subject altogether."

Mr Clegg said Mr Cable was an "incredibly important member of the Government" and an "outstanding Secretary of State" and praised his contribution to the Government's policy on university tuition fees.

"Whatever you think about the policy, Vince took some really brave, bold decisions which I think will stand the test of time," he said.

Mr Clegg also made clear that Mr Cable had been right to argue within the coalition for a tough approach to the banks.

"Because they are either explicitly owned by the taxpayer or they have been implicitly underwritten by the taxpayer, its clear that the banks are operating in a different environment to what they were 10, 15 years ago," he said.

"They can't act as if they exist in a social vacuum. That is why I think it is quite right for us in Government to say 'Look, you have got some wider responsibilities to consider because it is in your own self interest to do so'."

"That is not some sort of cavalier threat."

Mr Cameron strongly denied Mr Cable's claim that the Government could cut or scrap winter fuel payments for pensioners.

"The point he said about winter fuel payments is not true because that is not our plan. We are committed to keeping them," he said.