Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Nick Clegg's second PMQs

I think we can safely say that the civil servants will be a lot happier with Nick Clegg's second attempt at PMQs than they were with his first. After that event, they had to cope with his declaration of the Iraq war as illegal (it was, but the Government doesn't like to say so) and clarify that only the children's wing of Yarls Wood Detention Centre would be closing.

This time round, Nick coped admirably with a truly terrible Jack Straw. For someone who built his reputation on forensic questioning, Straw has been awful as a stand in for the stand in Labour leader Harriet Harman. His six questions were all on the subject of Andy Coulson and phone hacking and he failed to land a single blow. Straw's tactic was to seek to get Clegg to say whether or not he believed Coulson on the issue. Clegg played a straight bat to every question saying that it was for the Police to investigate and Coulson had denied any wrong-doing. He didn't back Coulson, but then how could he have done so? In among the answers was a very good line about Gordon Brown being the first to call Coulson to wish him well, and this took the wind out of Labour sails. Clegg's pay off line was even better, questioning why Straw was asking about these allegations rather than Afghanistan or Pakistan.

For the rest of the session, Clegg shone. He was light hearted and witty in replying to a light hearted plea from Labour MP Ian Davidson for a birthday present of two aircraft carriers. He sounded dourly serious in replying to a Tory who believes that chinese lanterns are the biggest threat to western civilisation. And most of all he took the fight to Labour and their attempts to claim that the economy only went into freefall on May 7th.

There was a Cornish interest in PMQs as SE Cornwall MP Sherryl Murray asked a question about foreign nationals who come to the UK for medical treatment but then don't pay their bills.

The final question to Clegg came from anti-coalition Tory backbencher Christopher Chope who asked whether significant amendments or defeat for the voting reform and constituencies bill would spell the end to the coalition. Clegg assured him that it would not. I'm not entirely sure that the mainstream Lib Dem Party would be happy to stay in Government if the key demand of a referendum on electoral reform was lost.

UPDATE - Paul Waugh has highlighted the Clegg answer to Chope saying that it might well be taken by rebellious Tory backbenchers as the green light to vote against the AV referendum. Yes, I think it could be. But I also think that this could be an exceptionally clever piece of positioning by Nick Clegg. There is no doubt that the majority of the Liberal Democrats would be up in arms about the prospect of staying in coalition with the Tories if there were to be no AV referendum. Clegg can 'listen' to them on this issue and harden up his stance with his Tory colleagues. This might be seen to give the vital reassurance that Lib Dem backbenchers need on the coalition. Of course, this could alternatively have been a massive faux pas which ends up losing the referendum and splitting the Party. Who knows?

1 comment:

David said...

Coulson is a tabloid hack and not a fit and proper person to be in No. 10 in any capacity. Nevertheless you make a good point on Straw's lack of questions on important issues.