PMQs: Your boys took a hell of a beating

I’m looking forward to the comments this week.

We saw a newly confident Nick Clegg at Prime Minister’s Questions today.

I’ve written before that Nick’s early Dispatch Box appearances were a bit like bear bating. He stood there, red-faced and growling as Labour MPs jabbed at him from all angles.

But, today, we saw an assured and relaxed Nick Clegg who was convincingly combatative. Most impressively, he discharged the session with barely a single reference to a piece of paper. Not for him the “chained to my indexed folder” look of David Cameron. In short, Nick Clegg was Prime Ministerial. “Best ever” was the comment of one MP picked up by the Parliament TV microphone.

For the sensitive, strong paper bags are available here

The high spot of the session, for me, was a Classic Dennis Skinner question about Murdoch, when he asked Clegg to tell him “man to man” what he thought of Murdoch’s relationship with Cameron. The question doesn’t read particularly impressively, but the delivery was fantastic – shouted, sputum-spraying invective.

We also heard a classic from John Redwood. – So classic it was like a Redwood caricature delivered by John Culshaw: “Will the Deputy Prime Minister introduce a freedom Bill to get rid of a lot of bossy and unloved regulations?”. It could be Redwood’s epitaph, so emblematic of his career as it was.

A quick note on the doughnutting (Firmly definition one in the Urban Dictionary). Unusually there was a least one LibDem MP behind Nick Clegg, namely Jo Swinson, unless I miss my guess. We had Danny Alexander beside Clegg (no Osborne, I note). And Harriet Harman had Ed Balls doing his favourite Ugly Sister act, twinned with Andy Burnham on the other side.

David Cameron was spending time in a big plane. Ed Miliband was spending time with his rhinologist.

Answer of the week came from Nick Clegg:

It is worth dwelling for a minute on the explanation provided by Ken Livingstone for his exotic tax arrangements. I quote from an interview that he gave just this weekend:

“I get loads of money, all from different sources, and I give it to an accountant and they manage it”.

That is modern socialism for you.

Harriet Harman was extraordinarily pedestrian in her delivery today. She read virtually every word she spoke with the exception of a rather desperate cry of “rubbish”.

At one point Harman sounded like Bjørge Lillelien. “Who he?” I hear you cry. He was the commentator who screamed: “Lord Nelson, Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Winston Churchill (etc)….Your boys took a hell of a beating!

Harman’s own Lillelienesque canter through an historical canon went:

What has happened to that fine Liberal tradition? They must be turning in their graves: the party of William Gladstone; the party of David Lloyd George: now the party of Nick Clegg.

Clegg, in return, gave a couple of stonkingly good answers on the NHS, culminating in this:

The right hon. and learned Lady has invited me to make comparisons; let me make three comparisons. The shadow Health Secretary has said:

“It is irresponsible to increase NHS spending”.

So Labour Members do not believe in more money for the NHS; we do. That is comparison No. 1. Secondly, Labour Members indulged the private sector with sweetheart deals, which we are making illegal in the Bill. They want sweetheart deals with the private sector; we do not. Thirdly, they presided over inequality in the NHS; we are including a statutory obligation in the Bill to deliver more equal outcomes in the NHS, which they failed to deliver in 13 years.

Labour Whips co-ordinated phrase of the week
“What difference has he made?”

Liberal Democrat questions
Martin Horwood asked for reassurances that there will be “a truly green planning framework”.

Lorely Burt asked about increasing diversity on company boards.

Bonus Alliance question
Naomi Long asked about pipe bomb attacks in her East Belfast constituency and links to proscribed organisations.

Barry White soundalike of the week
The SDLP’s Mark Durkan.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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19 Comments

  • I thought Clegg was excellent.

  • He was very good. I would LOVE to see Clegg vs Milliband, but it’ll probably never happen.

  • Clegg must have developed the hide of a rhinoceros by this point. He was good.

  • Keith Browning 15th Mar '12 - 12:35am

    He has been excellent for several weeks now. Perhaps the Lib Dems in the government are getting the hang of this Coalition thing, and starting to make it work for them.

    2012 has been a massive improvement over 2010-11.

  • Paul, you note the absence of George Osborne; in fairness to the Chancellor, isn’t he in America with the PM?

  • LondonLiberal 15th Mar '12 - 10:03am

    i thought clegg was appalling. Labour massively increased spending on the NHS. Just because they often did it cackhandedly, to suggest that Labour doesn’t care about the NHS is patent nonsense. As for this canard that the coalition have stopped ‘sweetheart deals’, well they may have stopped those, but they’ve replaced them with something much worse, as Polly Toynbee pointed out in yesterdays’ guardian, which is the ability of trusts to generate up to 49% of their revenue in the private sector (despite Shirley williams’ desperate claims to the contrary). And his evasion of skinner’s question essentially asking him to condemn murdoch was deeply depressing – we waited so long to get into a position where we could cut murdoch down to size and clegg misses an opportunity to do so. It was a pitiful and shameful performance, and i use those words very seriously.

  • David Pollard 15th Mar '12 - 10:40am

    I was surprised how easy the questions were. Andrew Neal was very disappointed. He thought there would be fireworks. Now is the time for Nick to apologise for signing THAT pledge, to get it out of the way before the good news on the economy gets stronger.

  • I have just posted on Caron Lindsay’s blog but I think my comments belong here .

    Given the sort of brickbats the guy has had to endure lately, Nick’s performance at PMQs yesterday was something close to brilliant. He showed a command of his brief that to my mind bettered the standard Cameron performance by some distance including, as Paul says here, some meaningful defence of the Health Bill – an area where Cameron has tended to rely on invective.

    His instant crushing of the snide intervention by Peter Lilley was a thing to behold.

    Yes, Nick no doubt doesn’t always get everything 100% right but I find it difficult to think of anyone else on our benches who could match him as Leader.

  • Clegg was impressive in the same way that Cameron is; don’t answer the question, any question, just say, ” Labour did/said xxxxx”.

    Great for the soundbite but making PMQs more pointless with every session.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 15th Mar '12 - 5:40pm

    @John WInder

    Hi John,

    This isn’t meant to be flippant, so please don’t take it that way.

    You can read the simple text of PMQs on Hansard here: http://bit.ly/z91G1d

    Andrew Sparrow does an excellent summary here also: http://bit.ly/yuK5V2

    There are also some great write-ups from Commons journalists such as Quentin Letts and Simon Hoggart.

    So, I have always taken the view that, with such a wealth of reportage available, the best thing I can do is not read any of it, and, instead, watch the whole session myself and then write a personal view of it – bearing in mind I have now watched two years’ worth, so I tend to skate over some of the stuff which has been repeated many times.

    So, I am a volunteer with a very active full time job (thankfully), so I write as I feel.

    So I would not for a moment pretend that I can even touch the lower garments of the likes of Simon Hoggart, who I have enormous respect and admiration for as a sketch writer. But at least I can say that my PMQ write-ups are a genuine personal view based on watching the session the whole way through and not reading or listening to other views or reports of the session until after I have written it.

    So, take it or leave it on that basis. It’s a great privilege for me to do it each week and I value the comments that come forward – good or bad.

    Paul

  • As someone who is continually fence-sitting over the merits of coalition for the LibDems, yesterday was a great morale booster 🙂

  • Funny…he never answered Dennis Skinner !!!!!

  • He shouted and blamed the previous government like a true Tory. So well done there.

  • I enjoy Paul’s take and am glad that he takes time to do it – to the ungenerous commentator above, why not read Hansard instead. Really, why do people have to go out of their way to be negative or rude?

  • Harman: “the party of William Gladstone; the party of David Lloyd George: now the party of Nick Clegg.”

    The trouble with that line of attack is it calls to mind the hushed reverential tones in which we speak of The Party Of Harriet Harman.

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