DPMQS: baiting Mister Mañana

We are told that Nick Clegg acts as “Flashman’s fag”. The system also means that the Deputy Prime Minister has his own gofer. His name is Mark Harper. So when the speaker calls “Questions for the Deputy Prime Minister” we have the surreal spectacle of Mr. Harper answering the first two questions. Being a good liberal though, Nick Clegg doesn’t seem to have got the hang of the fagging system and Mr. Harper ends up taking the easy questions, at least in the case of the first one today. It was from a Tory, Gavin Barwell pointing out the discrepancies in representation between the Wirral (4 MPs for 239,000 voters) and his own Croydon (3 MPs for 243,000 voters).

Will smaller constituencies lead to chaotic boundaries? – was the next question from Labour’s Graham Stringer, who raised the prospect of Sheffield Hallam constituency including Glossop in Derbyshire, for example. There will be +/- 5% room for manoevre on size to allow for avoiding irregularities, said the minister, rather than the 50% variation which happens at the moment.

Then, at last, we actually got the Deputy Prime Minister. He’d had three Shredded Wheat for breakfast so he took on three questions from three MPs all at once. All were on the subject of the recall of MPs. When will it happen?

I’ll let you into a secret. It may be me. Perhaps I am turning a bit too blasé, but virtually every Nick Clegg answer boils down to “Mañana”. That’s unfair, because when you’re the first Liberal DPM for 80 years there’s a lot of work to catch up on. To be fair, he has just delivered the AV referendum, through a rather grueling parliamentary process. But it will be a relief when he can announce more concrete changes, and less “We are currently considering….we will make a statement soon setting out our plans…..” etc etc – which was his answer to the recall questions.

“Will the government define ‘serious wrongdoing’ (the trigger for a recall)? asked Nadhim Zahawi (Con). Then we did get a bit of insight into the government’s thinking on this. It’s likely that any prison sentence would trigger a recall, rather than the 12 month sentence rule for disqualification which exists currently. 10% of voters would also have to sign a recall petition. (Which could be costly, Chris Skidmore(Con) suggested).

Then after all that preamble we were off. The Clegg baiting began. Roberta Blackman-Woods (Lab) asked whether the DPM “still believes that MPs should be recalled for breaking their promises—and if he does, how many Liberal Democrat MPs does he expect would be subject to that system?”. Wisely Nick Clegg did not rise to that bait.

The baiter-in-chief then waded in. Chris Bryant (Lab). Didn’t the LibDem manifesto refer to recalls for MPs who had “broken the rules”? (“…give people the power to sack their MP if the MP is not following the rules about how to do their job” was what it said)– he asked, adding that perhaps the voters would think that if MPs promised “3,000 more police officers and then cut 10,000, or promised not to raise VAT and then put it up by 2.5%” they would have broken the rules.

Again, a dead bat from the Cleggster. On questioning from Sir Peter Tapsell (Con) he said that there would need to be “checks and balances” to ensure no infringement of the “freedom of Members on both sides of the House to speak out and articulate our views”.

We were then back to boundary changes and Mark Harper again. He tackled questions about the frequency of the boundary reviews – every five years – saying that after the initial reduction from 650 to 600 seats, the reviews would be “less disruptive”.
Lords reform was the next subject. A draft bill will be published “shortly”. Clegg said his preference for a fully elected second chamber “is clear” but that “given the fact that the reform of the other place has been stalled for about 150 years, there is always a danger of making the best the enemy of the good.” So, expect compromise, in other words.

We then had the real Tory party roaring via Peter Bone: “The Deputy Prime Minister said that it had taken 150 years to get to this stage. May I urge him to take another 150 years before we have to vote?” Marvellous!

Sadiq Khan (Lab) harried the DPM on the timing of the Lords reform bill which was promised by December 2010 in the coalition agreement, he said. “Mañana”, said Clegg. [Indeed, the coalition agreement says: “The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010”]

Kelvin Hopkins berated Clegg for skiing in the Alps last week. But, spare a thought for Nick Clegg. He had to abandon his holiday after just less than two days to help deal with the Middle East crisis ramifications.

Harriet Harman then wafted onto the floor and repeated the apparent Labour theme of the day – Police numbers. “Broken promises” therein, which pitched us into full-blown into “unholy mess left by the last government” etc etc territory.

Robert Halfon (Con) asked about giving stronger powers to the Information Commissioner to fine companies who misuse people’s data. He can fine such companies up to half a million pounds, said Clegg.

Tom Clarke was the next Labour MP following the whips “theme of the day” on policing.

After a question from Nick de Bois (Con), Clegg said that under the new individual voter registration scheme, “each person will have to register individually, whereas the current system is registration by household, and they will be asked to provide personal identifiers, including their national insurance number, to enable registration officers to verify the identity of a person before they are added to the register.”

Then came the Labour whip’s darling, Luciana Berger. Would she prove that she has a mind of her own for once? Ah no. It was policing again.”There’s no money left” said Clegg, quoting the last Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

The proposal for the House of Commons debate of motions with 100,000 public signatures is being worked on.

To encourage young people to register to vote, a step that the government “will soon be piloting is to allow electoral registration officers to compare their databases with other publicly available databases, so that they can literally go from door to door and say, “You’re on this database, but you’re not on that one,” and thereby encourage people to register.”, said Clegg.

In answer to a question from Jack Dromey (Lab), Nick Clegg compared the situations of two great cities: “I am very struck by the fact that in Sheffield, the city where I am an MP, the Liberal Democrat council has kept every library and swimming pool open and has not made any major cuts to adult social services, and only 270 people will be laid off next year, whereas across the Pennines in Labour-controlled Manchester, 2,500 people have been laid off and almost everything has been closed across the whole city.”

In response to Jo Swinson (LibDem), Clegg said that the pilot of a public reading stage in the Protection of Freedoms Bill will have to be reviewed before decisions are made on how or whether to proceed with this innovation.

Oh dear. There was a second Labour theme for the day. Last week. “The first Deputy Prime Minister in British history to fail to turn up for work when the Prime Minister has gone abroad for a week! I think what I want to ask is, “What is the point of Nick Clegg?” “ asked John Mann in a classic example of an MP thinking with his bottom.

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16 Comments

  • It was glorious entertainment, watching Clegg being torn apart at the very seams.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read such united derision about a single politician from the media of all hues.

    Marvellous.

  • Even though I am not a fan,I have to admit to feeling a bit sorry for Clegg. He appeared poorly prepared and seemed oddly content to play the victim. Is his goal for this term in office to leave a legacy of modest but significant electoral reform but with an expectation that he will not stay as MP beyond 2015?

  • I don’t think I’ve ever read such united derision about a single politician from the media of all hues.
    ————
    Nor have I, and the sheer petty nature of much of it is pathetic and ridiculous; there are plenty of things people can genuinely throw at him (I could go either way myself), but despite that large amount to pull from there have been plenty of nonsense non-story attacks as well. A little restraint might be nice; I have no doubt it makes Clegg hating LDs and Labour happy (as well as plenty of non-aligned of course), and that the image is now probably ingrained in the public consciousness to the extent Clegg will be out in a couple of years (no benefit to doing so now) because he will be too divisive to win over people, but I just find the constant attacks tiresome, especially as too many (that is to say, some) are manufactured non-stories (eg box closing at 3pm – the implications resulting from thereon).

    A compromise on Lords reform I should think would be acceptable to most given the proportions in the Commons, and here’s hoping the other stuff gets done soon as well.

  • @ Cuse

    Clegg-hating is nothing more than feeble minded scapegoating from the parliamentary Labour party. They lack any sense of contrition whatsoever for their role in ruining the public finances and are determined to oppose any attempt to sort them out. How about MPs facing recall if they knowingly voted for spending binges that bankrupted the country? Their jeering, infantile attitude confirms how absurd the idea is that the Lib Dems should have thrown in our lot with this hypocritical bunch in a “rainbow coalition” government. What kind of working relationship would there have been with this level of arrogance and disrespect from a party that only got 6% more votes than we did?

    That the media are also unsympathetic just goes to show how linked in they are to a wide range of vested interests that has every incentive to prop up our rotten-to-the-core two party establishment.

    @ Kieran

    Totally agree. Fabricated non-stories seem to be the standard method of attack.

  • @Robert C

    I don’t like Clegg – you don’t like Labour. That you don’t realise why that makes your assertion that hating Clegg is “nothing more than feeble scapegoating” is risible.

    The point on Clegg was best demonstrated by the Telegraph, of all things. Their point – that Clegg has no credibility left – is the most damaging. He is mocked by Labour, by Tories, by print media, by the BBC, by left, right + Centre. He is mocked by parliamentarians and grandees in his own party. He is mocked by Lib Dems and he is mocked by former Lib Dems.

    The key point is he is mocked. He isn’t debated with or considered important to debate with. He is simply mocked.

  • I have to say as somene who has voted Labour for many years (though will not again) I think their behaviour was appalling however I feel that had Clegg been in coalition with Labour he would have received the same treatment, (probably even worse!) from the Tories. Green Party for me from now on they seem to still have some decency left.

    I disagree strongly with Clegg on what he did over tuition fees and my own children who attend a Comprehensive and are regarded by the school as definite high level ‘Oxbridge material’ may not even be going to University due to the high debt they will incur. This is a bombshell to many parents at the eleventh hour. I am sure there are many many middle class parents in this position too. They are not particularly wealthy and receive no help and do not wish for their children to start out their adulthood with massive debt around their neck. They may not have been in this position if the LibDems hadn’t propped up the Tories. We all know what the Tories are capable of and they only look after the few at the top of the chain – this hasn’t changed. I am also tired of some LibDems going along with the Tory line of being Bankers role deniers it’s ALL Labour’s fault!

    That aside, my gut feeling about Nick Clegg is that he is actually a guy with a conscience that probably meant well when he started out and that may be why he looks so tired and in fact on his way to being ill. He perhaps is not thick skinned and ruthless enough to get in the Westminster cesspit where most politicians and journalists operate.

    I fear for our country, as anyone with any good intentions will be destroyed by the media simply for the fun of it. It is getting worse. They twist and spin everything anyone does or says. We have a very destructive media that should be holding the politicans to account and opening up intelligent debate but it seems hellbent on spiteful gossip and destroying people. Sadly we have many politicians of the same ilk but I suspect Nick Clegg isn’t one of them.

    Why ever would you encourage your children to go into Politics?

  • I see no Iceberg 2nd Mar '11 - 7:45pm

    This mauling just emphasised why this has been one of the most terrible weeks Clegg has had.
    Which is saying something considering some of the dire weeks he’s had since May.

    In every TV interview this week he came across as complacent and almost disinterested.
    He looks increasingly like a semi-detached Minister running out the clock till the inevitable Leadership Contest before the next election. Which is why the most lethal and damaging barb was about Clegg forgetting he was in charge.
    That one is going to stick and as has been pointed out by other posters the publics perception of Clegg, from Cameron’s fall guy to a political joke, is fast becoming reality.

    Once the image of a political Leader as a joke lodges in the public mind the end is never all that far away.

    As IDS knows and as Nick well knows when he stabbed Ming in the back when Clegg helped depose him after public ridicule.

  • Mr Clegg’s pious lectures comparing LibDem run Sheffield with Labour-run Manchester ignore the fact that many LibDem councillors and council leaders have also complained about the local government settlement. To quote David Faulkner, Leader of Newcastle City Council (LibDem run), it “fails the fairness test”.

    Unfortunately, Mr Clegg seems to take as little notice of dissenting voices in his own party as he does the Labour Party.

  • Kieran, with respect who’s fault is the fact that Clegg “will be too divisive to win over people”. He wasn’ t forced to prop up a right-wing Tory government and in so doing making an utter fool out of voters like me. Will it never dawn on him and his loyalists that many ex-LibDem voters (yes I am one) are pretty jarred off with him and all his works – and it is all 100% his fault, no-one else is to blame, least of all the poor fools (yes me again) who voted for him.

  • Ed The Snapper 2nd Mar '11 - 10:29pm

    “But, spare a thought for Nick Clegg. He had to abandon his holiday after just less than two days to help deal with the Middle East crisis ramifications.”

    My heart bleeds for poor Nick Clegg.

  • I think the last few months in Govt have demonstrated that the Lib Dem talent pool is perhaps somewhat shallower than we thought. Irrespective of their political positions, some have taken to Govt much better than others. Nothing unusual in that other than that some who many felt would be effective have been unconvincing or worse – Vince is the obvious example but Clegg also. In contrast Laws and Huhne appear to have understood their roles and had the individual competence to deliver.

    Clegg’s treatment is no way to treat any mainstream politician but what I do not understand is why he has become so passive and seemingly isolated. Anyone able to suggest what is going on with him?

  • @Paul Walter

    Clegg is the focus because he’s the public face of the Lib Dem’s breaking of their pledges. Frankly you should be grateful that for the most part only one Lib Dem Minister is the focus of derision (Cable’s tactic of vanishing from public view seems to be working). I think you underestimate the contempt, admittedly tinged with pity, with which your politicians and party are held in by many of those who voted for you at the last election.

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