Clegg and Cameron in show of coalition unity

By staff

The prime minister and his deputy faced the press today, dismissing the news of Vince Cable’s comments to undercover reporters – but before they were apparently aware of new revelations on Rupert Murdoch BSkyB takeover.

David Cameron suggested that the coalition had been more helpful to government policy formation than one party acting alone – in a statement likely to infuriate some Conservatives.

He said of the coalition: “It’s a very good fusion of Conservative and Liberal Democrat policy” which “makes it incredibly powerful”.

But the session was dominated by questions over the business secretary’s comments, with Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg trying to present a united front after the business secretary compared coalition to being in a “war”.

The Lib Dem leader batted away the questions over the coalition’s stability. Responding to suggestions that there were serious disagreements at the top level of Cabinet, he said: “Shock horror – two parties have different ideas.”

Echoing the prime minister’s acceptance of Mr Cable’s “extremely apologetic” attitude, Mr Clegg told the assembled press: “He’s right to be embarrassed”, but insisted that he was an “incredibly important member of the government.

“He’s going to be a lot more careful.”

Meanwhile, Mr Cameron admitted the story in the Telegraph was “embarrassing” to the government, but had some praise for the business secretary.

He spoke of “a good and business-like relationship” with Mr Cable. Referring to the apology, he added: “We should leave it at that. We do have private disagreements on policy. Vince has been very constructive and incredibly engaged.”

But the prime minister categorically denied the suggestion made by Mr Cable that the winter fuel allowance may be altered under government plans.

Mr Cameron began with an update on the government’s response to the extreme weather, revealing that troops had been offered to the airport authorities to aid in bringing transport disruption down. He spoke of his “frustration” that action by BAA was not taken more quickly.

On the issue of the alternative vote (AV) referendum next May, Mr Clegg appeared to distance himself from the campaign, saying: “I don’t think the yes campaign should be run by politicians at all.”

The sight of the two men appearing together is a relatively rare one in Westminster – usually only occurring in response to matters of extreme importance, such as a public meeting to confront concerns following the spending review announcement in October.
Given the Liberal Democrats’ dire polling performance and internal convulsions on the crucial fees vote, the prime minister is under pressure to provide support to his deputy and shoulder some of the increasingly hostile reaction to government policy.

Both men insisted in the press conference that the parties will fight elections separately – if a little more “politely than usual”, including during the upcoming by-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth.

The stability of the coalition is crucial to both parties’ desire to rule out a general election during the spending cuts period before 2015.

Both Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg were anxious to demonstrate a show of unity today in the face of intense scrutiny for potential sources of splits and rebellion – with continuing fallout for the Lib Dems over tuition fees and growing Conservative unrest on law and order and Europe also in the spotlight.