Lib Dem ministers apologise over taped Tory criticism

Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow says he has been 'embarrassed'

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More Lib Dem ministers have been forced to apologise after being caught out by undercover reporters criticising their Conservative coalition colleagues.

In new Daily Telegraph revelations, David Heath and Norman Baker both attacked Chancellor George Osborne.

And Paul Burstow was recorded suggesting David Cameron could not be trusted - which he later denied.

Senior Tory Oliver Letwin dismissed the row and insisted there were "deep bonds" between the two parties.

Two Daily Telegraph reporters, posing as constituents, secretly taped hours of conversations with Liberal Democrat ministers who admitted concerns about the government's direction and policies.

'Embarrassed'

The revelations have been seized on by Labour as evidence that the coalition is a "sham" but senior Lib Dem and Tory ministers insist such tensions are inevitable when two parties work together in the national interest.

Start Quote

George Osborne has a capacity to get up one's nose, doesn't he?”

End Quote David Heath MP Deputy Leader of the House

Paul Burstow, who told the two fake constituents "I don't want you to trust David Cameron" has told the BBC he is "embarrassed" by the comments.

The care minister said it was "not a question of me trusting the prime minister, of course I do".

He said he was trying to explain that when you join a coalition you "don't merge into a single party, you retain your identities".

He had not been asked to resign or offered his resignation, he added.

Transport Minister Norman Baker and Deputy Leader of the House, David Heath, have also apologised for their remarks, a Lib Dem spokesman said.

The two senior Lib Dems told undercover reporters they voted in favour of tuition fees even though they opposed the policy.

'Beyond the pale'

Mr Heath also suggested Chancellor George Osborne was out of touch with ordinary people, in the transcripts published by the Daily Telegraph.

Mr Heath told the undercover reporters: "George Osborne has a capacity to get up one's nose, doesn't he?"

Coalitions are not born out of mutual love (Clue: the parties fought each other at the election).

They are driven by Parliamentary arithmetic.

At the Scottish parliament at Holyrood, coalition or minority bargaining is standard.

At Westminster, it is unusual.

From experience, coalitions need perhaps three things: Trust and respect between leaders, a clearly agreed programme and people working tirelessly to resolve the conflicts which will emerge.

An anecdote: In order to resolve tension between the two parties, a Labour minister once offered to attend the Lib Dem Parliamentary group meeting, there witnessing the customary blend of high-minded persistence and cheerful anarchy.

He turned to the then leader of the Lib Dems, Jim Wallace, and mouthed in tribute: "You must be a seriously hard b…ard to deal with that lot!".

"I mean some of them just have no experience of how ordinary people live, and that's what worries me. But maybe again that's part of our job to remind them."

And Mr Baker said: "I don't like George Osborne very much."

He added: "I mean, there are Tories who are quite good and there are Tories who are beyond the pale, and you have to just deal with the cards you've got."

Mr Baker described Justice Secretary Ken Clarke as "alright" and said there were some Tory MPs "you can do business with".

He added: "But what you end up doing in the coalition... is we play them off against each other."

During the conversations, Mr Baker likened himself to Helen Suzman, the South African MP who fought the apartheid regime.

"She got stuck in there in the South African parliament in the apartheid days as the only person there to oppose it... she stood up and championed that from inside," he said.

'Enemy'

Lib Dem head of media, James Holt, said the ministers understood it was not the proper language to use to talk about government colleagues.

But he added: "In workplaces the world over, there will be personality clashes and differences of opinion.

"In this case, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are coming from very different points of view and they are coming together in the national interest."

Local Government Minister Andrew Stunell told the bogus constituents he did not know where Mr Cameron stood on the "sincerity monitor".

"I don't know where I put him on the sincerity monitor... is he sincere? I do not know how to answer that question."

Business Secretary Vince Cable was stripped of his power to rule on broadcast regulation after he was taped saying he had "declared war" on media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.

But Prime Minister David Cameron has defended his decision not to sack Mr Cable - and other senior Conservatives have sought to play down the Telegraph revelations.

Conservative and government policy chief, Oliver Letwin, claims in the Guardian newspaper that a "deep bond of trust" has been formed between both coalition parties - whose policies, he said, have a huge amount of overlap.

The coalition was working on a range of policies that had the full backing of both parties, which it planned to announce mid-term once the current tranche of major policies had become law, the newspaper reported.

Lib Dem backbencher Adrian Sanders insisted the Lib Dems were making a significant difference to government policy but told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What is the point of being a separate political party if you don't consider that there are opponents to you? And the Conservative party is our opposition, in normal times."

Asked by presenter James Naughtie if he thought the Lib Dems were better off in coalition even though the Tories were still their "enemy", the Torbay MP replied: "Got it in one, Jim."

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