A Liberal Democrat MP has called for an official investigation after a Home Office special adviser allegedly used derogatory language to describe Nick Clegg. Duncan Hames (Chippenham) claimed the aide said to have branded the Deputy Prime Minister a "w*****" had breached the special adviser code of conduct. On that basis he has written to Home Office Permanent Secretary Mark Sedwill with a formal complaint.
A row erupted today when Mr Clegg launched a furious attack on Theresa May for saying he put children at risk by blocking the so-called snoopers' charter. Describing the Home Secretary's speech to Tory conference this week as a "new low point in coalition relations", he said he had demanded an apology.
But his outburst was treated with contempt by those working for Mrs May, according to the Daily Mail newspaper, which quoted a source saying the adviser had used the swear word. In his letter, Mr Hames said the apparent use of choice language amounted to a "clear breach" of the Civil Service Code and the code of conduct for special advisers. He wrote: "Special Advisers are - subject to specified exceptions - required to conduct themselves in accordance with the Civil Service Code."
Quoting from the code for special advisers, he added: "The highest standards of conduct are expected of special advisers. Specifically, the preparation or dissemination of inappropriate material or personal attacks has no part to play in the job of being a special adviser as it has no part to play in the conduct of public life.
"Any special adviser ever found to be disseminating inappropriate material will automatically be dismissed by their appointing minister. Special advisers...must observe discretion and express comment with moderation, avoiding personal attacks."
In addition, he said, the code states that all contacts with the news media should be authorised by the appointing minister. Mr Hames has asked Mr Sedwill to investigate which aide was responsible for the alleged breach, confirm whether departmental resources were used in the distribution of the "personal attack" and detail what action has been taken as a result.
In her address to activists Mrs May said she had proposed the snoopers' charter because the inability of police and intelligence services to monitor internet and phone use was creating a "crisis in national security". She claimed the National Crime Agency (NCA) had been forced to drop at least 20 cases because of missing communications data, including 13 "threat-to-life cases" involving children.
Accusing the Liberal Democrats of being "outrageously irresponsible" for torpedoing the legislation, Mrs May indicated that a future Conservative government would introduce the measures. But speaking on his regular LBC radio phone-in, Mr Clegg accused his Cabinet colleague of "appalling" behaviour - suggesting she was the one putting children at risk.
"This a new low point in coalition relations," he said. "The reason the National Crime Agency had to drop some of these cases was because IP addresses were not properly matched to individual mobile devices. I have been saying for months that that is a problem we should deal with, and guess who has been dragging their feet to do something about it - the Home Office.
"I think I am entitled to be a little bit aggrieved to hear a Conservative Home Secretary somehow claiming that my party is putting children at risk when it is their inactivity that is doing just that."
Mr Clegg said he had not yet spoken to Mrs May directly, but had written her a letter expressing his anger. "I have made it very, very clear to her that I expect an apology from her for making such a false and outrageous claim," the Liberal Democrat leader said.
A source close to Mrs May repeated the accusation that the Liberal Democrats were putting children at risk. "Maybe Clegg is becoming as forgetful as Ed Miliband but we haven't received a letter from him," they said. "It's interesting to see how the Lib Dems react to the logic of their position being aired in public but the truth is that they are putting lives at risk right now.
"If they want to do something about that, they can start talking to us about returning to the Communications Data Bill that Nick Clegg first torpedoed on his radio show two years ago."