Nick Clegg becoming ‘increasingly irritated’ by Lib Dem ministers indiscreetly discussing state of the Coalition

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg expressed 'increasing irritation' following unguarded comments

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg expressed 'increasing irritation' following unguarded comments

Nick Clegg has vented his fury after a string of MPs and ministers were caught blasting the coalition by a controversial newspaper sting.

The deputy prime minister expressed 'increasing irritation' following the unguarded comments which saw Business Secretary Vince Cable left momentarily clinging to his position.

Today Mr Clegg was said to be angry that senior members of his team appeared to have ignored his instruction to the party that it must 'own' the coalition, rather than oppose it from within.

Dr Cable became the first Lib Dem left red-faced on Monday after he was secretly recorded claiming to have declared war on Rupert Murdoch's media empire.

Undercover reporters from The Daily Telegraph went on to expose a number of his colleagues criticising key policies, with some making personal attacks on Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne, putting further strain on the coalition.

'Nick Clegg is increasingly irritated,' one aide to the Lib Dem leader told the Financial Times.

'There is no harm in us talking about what we've achieved in government but you have got to be careful that it doesn't look like we are providing a running commentary.'

Meanwhile, a spokesman said Mr Clegg was losing patience with senior ministers who had been snared by the newspaper investigation.

'He feels they should be focusing on delivering Liberal Democrat policies rather than providing a running commentary on the coalition,' he said.

Paul Burstow
David Heath, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Somerton & Frome

(Left-right) Care Minister Paul Burstow, Transport Minister Norman Baker,  Local Government Minister Andrew Stunell and deputy leader of the Commons David Heath were secretly taped by undercover reporters

But as Mr Clegg attempted to publicly smooth the waters, Lib Dem activists welcomed the exposure of splits within government.

Richard Kemp, leader of the party's councillors in England, said the grassroots - who fear a massive defeat in the local elections in May -  were delighted by the candid remarks.

'I was handing round my Christmas card yesterday morning and everyone was congratulating me,' he told The Times.

'People were saying, "We always knew you weren't really Tories". It made people realise that we are a distinct party.'

He urged Lib Dems to make clear which policies they were directly opposed to.

His remarks came after Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders courted controversy with his blog, writing: 'If lessons are not learnt from the higher education train crash, then the next four years are going to be very long indeed, with our prospects of advancement probably non-existent for a generation.'

Business Secretary Vince Cable leaves his home in Twickenham, south London after he was stripped of his responsibilities for the media

Business Secretary Vince Cable leaves his home in Twickenham, south London after he was stripped of his responsibilities for the media

He added: 'The leadership, on the other hand, almost revels in having to take decisions against the grain of Liberal Democrat support and can't see the damage and hurt left in their wake.'

Dr Cable yesterday broke his silence to hit out at the undercover reporters for the 'great damage'  caused to the relationship between MPs and constituents.

Tactics employed by journalists 'completely undermined' the work of local MPs, he claimed, admitting he would need to be 'more guarded' in future.

But he defended his comments, made in 'confidential' circumstances, saying: 'Sometimes you have to try to give people frank comments and advice'.

The Business Secretary has been stripped of his role in deciding News Corporation's proposed takeover of BSkyB, but will keep his Cabinet job.

Meanwhile care minister Paul Burstow was forced to apologise after he was taped urging voters not to trust David Cameron.

Others embarrassed by the sting included deputy leader of the Commons David Heath who suggested multi-millionaire George Osborne was out of touch and had 'no experience of how ordinary people live'.

Transport Minister Norman Baker added to the furore saying : 'I don't like George Osborne very much' while Local Government Minister Andrew Stunell admitted he did not know where Mr Cameron stood on the 'sincerity monitor'.

Labour has sought to keep up the pressure on the coalition after Mr Cable was hastily stripped of responsibilities, hitting out at the decision to hand these to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Shadow business secretary John Denham questioned whether Mr Cable had broken the ministerial code and whether Mr Hunt was a 'fit and proper person' to take on the case, pointing to an article by Mr Hunt in which he praised Mr Murdoch and said that the News Corp bid did not represent a 'substantial change'.

Mr Denham said: 'It is very hard to see how any decision Jeremy Hunt makes will enjoy complete confidence.'

British Prime Minister David Cameron
Chancellor George Osborne

The Prime Minister is insincere and the Chancellor has the 'capacity to get up one's nose', according to Liberal Democrat ministers secretly taped by undercover reporters during a Daily Telegraph investigation