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Conservative anger as Clegg prepares to break with Cameron over extremism - in Luton, of all places

by Paul Goodman

Nick Clegg's partnership with David Cameron is the rock on which the Coalition was built.  The Deputy Prime Minister's also the Government's lightning rod - as the target of voter anger over "cuts" - and has clearly found the translation from pop idol of the election TV debates to pantomine villain of the deficit reduction programme hard to handle.  Clegg's scarcely a Conservative, but the Party owes him a lot, as ConservativeHome readers recognise in our Cabinet popularity polls.

He's also extremely loyal.  Which makes a speech that he's due to give this afternoon all the more noteworthy.  I gather that the Deputy Prime Minister's to give an address which will take a very different view of counter-extremism policy to that recently repeated by David Cameron in Munich (and elaborated upon by him in an interesting address to the Community Security Trust yesterday evening).  The speech hasn't been released yet but should be available soon.

Wouldn't it be wise not to rush to judgement, but wait for the text?  Usually, the answer would be yes.  But there are two points worth making now.  The first is that there's great unhappiness in senior Conservative circles about Clegg's speech.  The second is that there's just as much discontent about the venue - Luton.  Cameron was criticised over the Munich speech by Sadiq Khan, who claimed that the Prime Minister "was writing propaganda for the English Defence League".  Khan's point was that the EDL was marching in Luton that day.

For Clegg to choose Luton as a venue, therefore, and do anything other than back the Prime Minister up completely, risks another story about Government splits - and at the very highest level: it will be asked whether Clegg backs Khan or Cameron?  There's never a good time for stoking media speculation about division, but in the wake of recent confusion over foreign policy this is an especially bad one.  Furthermore, the Deputy Prime Minister risks undermining Cameron's drive to get the security services, civil service and police fully behind the Government's approach.

Perhaps that's the explanation: after all, the Liberal Democrats have been less than scrupulous in not going after Islamist support.

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