NICK Clegg only spoke out about UK Government plans on childcare to fight off internal Liberal Democrat efforts to oust him as leader, Michael Gove, the Conservative Education Secretary, has claimed.

His remarks were swiftly branded as "loopy" by senior Lib Dem sources. One said the Secretary of State knew "an awful lot about leadership ambitions but not a lot about the Lib Dems".

In an attack on the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Gove said Mr Clegg had "to show a bit of leg" on the childcare issue because of efforts to undermine his leadership position.

The Education Secretary said: "There is a campaign being led by Matthew Oakeshott, this Liberal Democrat in the Lords, to try to destabilise Nick Clegg because Matthew Oakeshott wants Vince Cable to succeed him. Nick, understandably, needs to show Lib Dems that he is fighting hard."

The childcare issue hit the headlines after Mr Clegg made clear he did not support loosening staff-to-child ratios in English nurseries, part of a package of nursery reforms championed by Liz Truss, the Tory Education Minister, which emerged after months of wrangling between the Coalition partners.

Mr Clegg has pointed to concerns expressed by many groups in a consultation that the policy would not result in cheaper childcare costs.