Nick Clegg at PMQs, with added Elvis

Clegg_PMQsNick was standing in for David Cameron, who was visiting Israel, at Prime Minister’s Questions today. The half hour was, of course, punctuated with the usual pantomime and point-scoring, but it seemed a lot more relaxed and good humoured than it usually is. Cameron acts sometimes like the event is beneath him. Nick just took all the jibes, responded with a fair bit of patience and humour and even seemed amused by some of them. The Labour spin doctors must have been up all night thinking of Elvis puns after we were beaten by the Bus Pass Elvis party in a council by-election in Clifton in Nottingham last week. The best they could manage was “You ain’t nothing but a lap dog.” You could see Nick trying not to laugh but he didn’t quite manage it as he responded:

At least we are not the lapdog of the bankers, which is what Labour was in office. At least we did not crash the British economy. At least we did not cost every household £3,000. At least we did not preside over an increase in relative poverty. At least we did not preside over an increase in youth unemployment. We are creating the stronger economy and fairer society that the Labour party failed to create.

I really hope that nobody was playing Clegg Bingo, especially not the Drinking Game version. If they had been, they would have been away with the fairies by 12:15. All the old favourites were there – Labour’s sweetheart deals with the private sector in the NHS, their prawn cocktail charm offensive, stronger economy, fairer society, the mess we inherited.

Now, of course, as any good communications expert will tell you, you should have a consistent message, so there’s nothing wrong with Nick essentially having the same conversation hundreds of times between a year ago and May 2015. It’s only when those of us who listen to every single one of these conversations start wearing ear plugs and coming out in hives at hearing it so often that it’ll just be starting to get through to the public.

One of the features of Call Clegg every week is that he usually makes at least a reasonable attempt to ask the question that’s put to him. He deflected a couple from Harriet Harman, one on the vote last night giving the Secretary of State for Health the power to close hospitals. Instead he talked about how rubbish Labour were at running the NHS in Wales and when they were last in Government in England.

Harman didn’t really land any blows on Clegg. It is never the best idea to tackle him on the top rate of tax which was lower than it is now for all but a month of Labour’s 13 years in office.

Nick did shoe-horn in a thing about Labour’s plans to cut apprenticeships.

 Last week, it tabled an amendment to the Deregulation Bill which would tell half a million young people on level 2 apprenticeships that they are no longer apprentices. Worse than that, it issued a report a few months ago that said that hundreds of thousands of youngsters on level 2 apprenticeships are—get this—dead weight. What a kick in the teeth for the young people we should be helping on to apprenticeships.

You can tell it was planned because of the speed  of the party’s response, with added info graphic. Channel 4’s Factcheck blog was underwhelmed, saying essentially that it was a it over-spun. However, they did say that Labour wasn’t necessarily right either, which is the bit they aren’t plastering all over social media:

Now, we’re not saying Labour are right about the need for this.

Actually, the government has already taken some steps to make sure apprenticeships are more rigorous.

Labour’s report – written, remember, in September last year – has been slightly overtaken by events now.

It complains that one in five apprenticeships last for less than six months. But the government has now introduced a one-year minimum for all apprenticeships, so that can’t happen any more.

The policy unit also recommends “asking business what powers they need to ensure they can deliver the expansion in apprenticeships we need to rebuild the economy”.

Arguably, that is exactly what the coalition is doing right now by recruiting industry“trailblazers” to help redesign apprenticeships.

But how enriching and inspiring would it be if they just said, ok, we need to get young people into work, let’s talk about our ideas for doing it?  Airborne boars will be looping the loop over Central London before that happens, I think.

I do despair about our lot asking planted questions. Alan Beith’s was nauseatingly on message, but at least it gave Nick the chance to have a real go at the Tories over free school meals:

One of them, as he will know, is in the papers this morning, because of the slightly inexplicable views of an entirely unknown if highly opinionated ex-party adviser to the Conservative party about free school meals. Free school meals, when they are delivered for those in infant school in September, will save families money, improve the health of children and improve educational outcomes. Instead of denigrating that policy, we should be celebrating it.

For me, the question of the day, and the most genuine exchange, came from Alliance MP Naomi Long. It was about the tone of the immigration debate in light of the racist abuse received by one of her colleagues. Nick responded:
I was deeply saddened and shocked to hear about the incidents and what had happened to members of the Polish and Chinese community in her constituency, and even more so to hear about what has happened to her colleague Anna Lo, Member of the Legislative Assembly. I understand that she is the first Member of Chinese descent in any legislature in Europe, but she, too, has been subject to terrible abuse by bullies and racists. I rang her a few weeks ago to express my support for what she is doing to stand up against that terrible treatment.

I’ve done a Storify thingy with my tweets from the half hour which you can read here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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29 Comments

  • The apprenticeship thing was (and is) unedifying. The coalition is trying to recover from a situation where too many of the 1.6 million apprenticeships (or whatever this week’s number is) have been short-term training courses for people well over 25. Labour propose to upgrade the qualification level, coalition plans mean a one-year minimum for a “real” apprenticeship. There’s scope for agreement there.

    How many coalition apprenticeships would be labelled “not apprenticeships” by the 12-month requirement? More than half a million? I would think so.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 12th Mar '14 - 10:30pm

    I have already made this comment under a previous thread but as it is so apposite to this thread I’ll re-submit it and hope that you’ll accept it. The slavish support for the Tories and vindictive antagonism towards Labour that Nick Clegg exhibited at today’s PMQs only convinces grass roots Labour members such as myself that in the event of being forced to choose between going into coalition with the party of Clegg and cutting our own arms off, the latter course would be infinitely preferable.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 13th Mar '14 - 12:07am

    @Simon Shaw

    If Liberal democrats are not bothered with what the Labour grass roots think why did your Leader define the conditions for a coalition with us recently? But, of course, with your present position in the polls averaging around 8% and your existence as a political force threatened by the Bus Pass Elvis Party, you will grasp at any straws, I suppose. I suggest that there is more chance of finding a Routemaster on the Moon than the public giving the Liberal Democrats another go at coalition.

  • “one on the vote last night giving the Secretary of State for Health the power to close hospitals.”

    Good to see at least one of you recognises this is the result of the LDs abstaining or voting with the Tories. Paul Burstow ought to feel embarrassed that he accepted the chairmanship of a committee (for one year only) instead of pushing his own amendment to a vote.

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th Mar '14 - 4:55am

    @ Mack ( not a lib dem)
    I don’t know how Labour functions at grass roots level, and I suspect that few do.

    Labour has my vote at the next election because despite the stalwart efforts of some of the Lib Dems who post on here, most of us left leaning liberal types have no other party to vote for any more.

    I have tried to analyse why I feel more angry with the Liberal Democrats than I do the tories when I think of what as happened to our NHS and I think that I expected nothing better from the tories, but for the Lib Dems to enthusiatically support this tory policy has been truly shocking to me.

  • Nick Collins 13th Mar '14 - 8:29am

    Clegg ‘s performance was embarrassing. He sounded like a boy in a public school debating society trying to imitate Cameron.

  • Nick Tregoning 13th Mar '14 - 8:31am

    @Mack(Not a Lib Dem) and others
    Ah yes…Labour. So radical in opposition. So conservative in government. Always (and I go back to 1964) winning from the left and then moving smartly to the right. 75p pensions increase anybody? How about scrapping the 10p tax band? Going to war in Iraq? 12 years 11 months when a 50p tax band was of no importance? Introducing and uplifting tuition fees after having promised not to in a manifesto? Twice? Introducing local housing allowances? Employing ATOS? Sucking up to the bankers? Yup, it was all wonderful under Labour. No mistakes were ever made, and the sun shone all day.

  • Nick Collins 13th Mar '14 - 8:46am

    @ Nick T: “So radical in opposition. So conservative in government”. That sounds like a pretty good epitaph for the LibDems.

  • David Evans 13th Mar '14 - 9:14am

    @ Nick : Sounds like, but we are in a coalition and can’t do everything we would want to. Labour had huge majorities and just went native from Day 1.

  • Where I live the grass roots of the Labour Party had virtually ceased to exist. They lost their last councillor four years ago. However, since Nick Clegg became leader of the party he has breathed life back into the Labour Party. Reaction to his performance in yesterday’s PMQs from outside the Liberal Democrats is what matters. The party needs more than just 10% in the opinion polls. Maybe Clegg and his advisors might like to consider if the strategy of attacking and being rude to people beyond the 10% is the best way to win them over. Coming on strong like Cameron is not going to win any conservative voters and will serve to reinforce antagonism amongst the majority of voters who are not right wingers.
    Perhaps someone at the top of the party might read the comment from Jayne Mansfield and consider if there are any lessons —-

    Jayne Mansfield 13th Mar ’14 – 4:55am
    I don’t know how Labour functions at grass roots level, and I suspect that few do.
    Labour has my vote at the next election because despite the stalwart efforts of some of the Lib Dems who post on here, most of us left leaning liberal types have no other party to vote for any more.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 13th Mar '14 - 9:45am

    @Nick Tregoning
    “Ah yes…Labour. So radical in opposition. So conservative in government.”

    I think that comment is good for all parties. Remember the Liberal Democrats’ last manifesto and its pledge on tuition fees?
    Remember the Lib Dem commitment to giving illegal immigrants citizenship and opposing an immigration cap? I could go on and on. Surely what’s important for those on the democratic Left is that individuals at the grass roots remain true to their radical beliefs and don’t elect Leaders such as Clegg and Blair who will sell them out.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 13th Mar '14 - 9:58am

    @Jayne Mansfield

    “but for the Lib Dems to enthusiatically support this tory policy has been truly shocking to me.”

    Yes, Jayne, who would have thought that the Liberal Democrats with their commitment to localism and local campaigning would have collaborated with the Tories in giving powers to the Secretary of State for Health to close any hospital in just 40 days without regard to the wishes of the community it serves. Hospitals such as Lewisham for example.

  • Nick Collins 13th Mar '14 - 11:08am

    @ David Evans. I have no brief for the Labour Party and neither obligation nor desire to defend their past. But , like Jayne Mansfield, I shall vote for them next time because there is nothing else left.

  • Dare a member of the LibDems suggest that the ‘You ain’t nothing but a lap-dog’ jibe at the DPM was very entertaining?

    Oh, and the comment by ‘MartinB’ about Paul Burstow was most apposite. I’d probably be excommunicated from the LibDem congregation were I to reveal what my younger (ex-LibDem) son said about the honourable(?) Mr Burstow.

  • @ various “I shall vote for them next time because there is nothing else left.”
    It was always said before the 2010 election that whoever got into government would become so unpopular that they would be out of power for a generation, because of the things they would have to do to public finances. It’s even harder for the Lib Dems because due to the necessity of cuts it’s easy for Labour to portray the government as “Tory led” and the Lib Dems as having sold out. In this context, it’s entirely understandable that many have now gone to Labour for this reason, but absolutely right for Nick Clegg to point out in PMQs some of the hypocricy with which Labour attack us, knowing full well that they would have most likely done similar things had they been in government.

  • Simon Shaw wrote: “For myself, the least desirable outcome I would like to see in 2015 is a Labour/Lib Dem coalition.”

    Are you saying that you would prefer to see Labour win an outright majority in 2015, rather than govern in coalition with the LibDems? Fair enough, if so, but I find it strange that you would prefer to see your party out of power rather than having to share power with Labour.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 13th Mar '14 - 1:32pm

    @Simon Shaw
    “What have the views of the Labour grass roots got to do with whether the Labour Party leadership enter or don’t enter a coalition in 2015?”

    So you don’t think the views of the grass roots matter eh? Ah, now I understand why the Liberal Democrats are languishing at 8% in the polls.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 13th Mar '14 - 1:46pm

    @ David White.

    Yes, it was a clever, entertaining jibe. And after the next General Election, Clegg’s position may be a case of “Return to Sender”?

  • Nick Collins 13th Mar '14 - 2:09pm

    @ Julian Tisi: “It’s even harder for the LibDems …”. Oh dear, my heart bleeds for you. But if you don’t like to hear this government called “Tory led”, why not call it what it is: just plain Tory? After Clegg’s performance yesterday, reciting Cameron’s script, that seems wholly appropriate.

  • There’s unpopular and there’s losing to Bus Pass Elvis and what was it last year a man dressed as a Duck in Scotland. As a liberal minded person I find this very worrying, Sure, attacking Labour hypocrisy is fair enough to an extent, but there is more going on here than Labour spin. Personally, as a mere floating social liberal voter I think the Lib Dems need to wake up, see where Mr Clegg has led their party and have a proper rethink.

  • @ David White

    It was funny. But as John Crace makes clear in The Guardian it is not that appropriate because a lap-dog is loved and cherished unlike Clegg who is universally loathed. —
    ” Clegg is hated by almost everyone. Labour hate him, the Tories barely bother to conceal their contempt for him, and his own party recognise him as a complete liability, with Danny Alexander now openly mounting a leadership campaign against him. ”
    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/mar/12/clegg-dodges-lapdog-puns-labour-harman-pmqs

  • Stuart Mitchell 13th Mar '14 - 5:01pm

    “Worse than that, it issued a report a few months ago that said that hundreds of thousands of youngsters on level 2 apprenticeships are—get this—dead weight.”

    Hmm. I wonder if Clegg knows that “deadweight” is a common economic term with a precise meaning, and that was the sense in which the Labour report used the term. In fact the current government is happy to publish whole papers on the issue of “deadweight” within apprenticeship provision.

    Of course the way Clegg has spun this is to make it sound like Labour are simply throwing the word “deadweight” around as some sort of gratuitous abuse directed at apprentices themselves. Many Lib Dem councillors have gleefully repeated this – even ones who I know for a fact are highly qualified in economics and ought to know better.

    This is shabby politics.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 13th Mar '14 - 5:36pm

    @Simon Shaw.

    I think you’re confusing the Labour Leadership with the Lib Dem leadership.

    As for a small Labour majority, that would be better than none at all, and, as the Liberal Democrats have created five year fixed term parliaments Labour will easily be able to stay securely in power with a small majority for five years without the necessity of going into coalition.

    Losing crucial House of Commons votes doesn’t matter so much now under the new regime. Even though the Coalition failed to convince the House that Syria should be bombed and lost a crucial vote that ordinarily might have triggered a General Election, the Coalition has been able to stagger on and will continue to stagger on until the five year term is up. Five year fixed term parliaments are a constitutional outrage, in my view.

    UK Polling Report is consistently projecting a Labour Majority of 58 seats by the way. Is that majority small enough for you?

  • David White 13th Mar '14 - 7:50pm

    Oh dear, have I inspired too many comments re Elvis Clegg? I think that, when both the EU and general elections come around, Nick Presley will be singing, ‘Oh, my darling, please surrender all your love so warm and tender…’ and ‘Love me tender, love me true, all my dreams fulfil…’, ‘Don’t be cruel to a heart that’s true…’ ‘Cos I don’t have a wooden heart.’! Unfortunately, I think that Nick’s going to be ‘All Shook Up’, in ‘Heartbreak Hotel’! But we shall see, shan’t we?

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