Coffee House

The Coalition letter war steps up a notch

2 May 2014

Coalition relations are growing more fractious and sour. Even departments where the rapport between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems had been respectful, such as Justice, are starting to bicker publicly. Today the Mail splashes on a row between the two parties over knife crime, in the week of the stabbing of teacher Ann Maguire. Nick Clegg has refused to support mandatory minimum sentences for repeat knife offences, and the normally secret letters discussing the measures have made their way into the pages of a newspaper.

Only a few months ago, ministers and advisers thought things were going sufficiently well in most parts of the Coalition (aside from Education, which has long had plenty of dirty linen flapping about in public) that these sorts of letters, which are known as ministerial write-rounds, would probably stay private. They told me that a letter war would turn quickly into ‘mutually-assured destruction’ and that things would have to deteriorate badly for anyone to want to declare the start of such a war. But it looks as though tensions really are rising.


One of the most telling quotes in the Mail report is that Nick Clegg told the Home Affairs Committee, an internal but powerful committee of ministers which discusses all domestic policies, that ‘we haven’t discussed it and I am not going to have it discussed… I’m in charge of this committee – forget it’. Clegg’s chairmanship of this committee has frustrated ministers in other departments too, to the extent that the only way to get a policy going was to brief it to the press, cause a row, and then wheedle some concessions from the Deputy Prime Minister with the press on your side.

This raises a question of what might happen if the two parties continue to work together after the 2015 election. These letter wars are all very well as we approach the general election and the two parties are firstly keen to assert their separate identities and secondly a bit tired and ratty at the end of five years of collaboration. But there will need to be a refreshing of the machine of government after the election if there is another Con-Lib coalition. Otherwise the letters might continue to flap out of Whitehall offices.

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  • Andy

    ‘He is self-obsessed, sanctimonious and so dishonest he finds the words truth and lies have ceased to have any objective meaning, and he treats taxpayers money with contempt. He won’t do the hard work to get policy right – all he cares about is his image. He is a revolting character. And I say that after spending 15 years in Westminster. Whenever Clegg gave a speech, he’d demand we spent hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money for his latest absurd gimmick. We thwarted Clegg as much as we could’. Dominic Cummings on Nick Clegg.

  • ButcombeMan

    It was always a mistake to allow Clegg to control this commitee.

    I am surprised May has kept her temper.

  • Smithersjones2013

    There is a certain symmetry in two broken divided dysfunctional political parties demonstrating what a broken divided dysfunctional government coalition brings…….

  • an ex-tory voter

    The war in Whitehall is the inevitable result of “sleeping with the enemy” and it could not happen to a more deserving bunch of chancers.

  • Inverted Meniscus

    With Ed Balls and Ed Miliband in the field it is an almost impossible contest but Clegg is certainly giving his all for the title of the most preposterous, unprincipled, vapid, ignorant, imbecilic and disgusting politician in Britain.

  • MirthaTidville

    Interesting..I`m only suprised its taken this long for the recriminations to start. Cleggie seems to have found a new type of high ground, since his mauling by Farage, which is isolationism borne of stupidity. With current events unfolding anyone with an iota of wit would have been keen for a bit of populism….but not Clegg. Which is precisely why he will rightly get a drubbing later this month

  • Bluesman_1

    ” ‘we haven’t discussed it and I am not going to have it discussed… I’m in charge of this committee – forget it’ ”

    Nick Clegg – democrat.

    • Hexhamgeezer

      “It’s MY ball and I’m not gonna let you play with it”

    • Andy

      Kind of underlines what was said about him. Clegg is petulant, self serving and nasty.

      • Frank

        I got moderated the last time I said this, but Clegg is a himbo (male airhead).

        • Andy

          The Specci delete the truth far too often.

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