PMQs – Nick Clegg, the single mother’s friend

Our usual insightful team of commentators are away from their desks this lunchtime so it falls to me to report PMQs,

Questions from Cameron about recapitalisation allowed the PM to patronise him on economic answers. A slip of the tongue for the PM led to him telling the house he had saved the world.  Chutzpah much?

Alan Simpson, the Labour rebel for Nottingham South (including the ward I represent) pointed out the value of saving the world when you have an opposition that can’t even save face. He went on to ask whether now is the time to introduce a Tobin tax.

Then Clegg rose to his feet, and began by extending his sympathy to Lance Corporal David Wilson, who died in Iraq.

He told the House a single mother with small children had paid him a visit – and then had to sit down as laughter burst out around the chamber.  Not entirely sure why honourable members should find that quite so funny.  When the hilarity subsided, he was back on his feet to explain she came with  a bundle of letters from the government demanding tax credits back. The letter was near  incomprehensible apart from clear threats to take her family to  court to repay money she didn’t have. She was terrified.  Does the Prime Minister really think this is the sort of help families need in time of recession?

Brown managed barely three sentences in reply, pointing out that tax credits had raised many children out of poverty, and completely skirting over the issue of the huge number of families for whom the system has failed.

Clegg’s second bite at the cherry saw him accusing the PM of being deluded, seeing himself as Atlas with the world on shoulders.  The sad fact is, 35 low income families are taken to court every day. The system is confused bureauocratic and cruel, and fixed payments would give peole security.

The Prime Minister replied that fixed payments takes out the flexibility to change to meet circumstances. But it’s this flexibility that leads to families getting in a mess and to a system that really is desparately complicated to understand.  And it’s this flexibility that is directly leading to hardship for many.

Later, Phil Willis asked a question on assisted dying, since the death of one of his constituents is to be shown on tv later today.


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72 Comments

  • Andy McSmith makes the point which appears to elude Guido:

    http://amcsmith.livejournal.com/1450.html

  • Hywel Morgan 10th Dec '08 - 1:48pm

    So what does he do Darrell – not mention single mothers even when they are being massively badly treated by a system set up by the government.

    If MPs stop, or temper representing their constituents because they might get embarrassed then they should find a different profession.

    BTW Paddy spent years suffering derision everytime he stood up to talk about the former Yugoslavia in the 90s

  • Ruth Bright 10th Dec '08 - 2:45pm

    It’s great that Nick Clegg is standing up for single mothers re tax credits but it would more impressive if he guaranteed Lib Dem opposition to the current attack on single parents receiving other benefits.

    As for Phil Willis he told Radio 4 this morning that it was wrong to show a film of assisted death because people might watch it for the wrong reasons ie “because it’s good television”. Presumably the broadcast should be banned – what kind of Liberal position is that?

  • Liam Pennington 10th Dec '08 - 3:12pm

    I agree that Nick Clegg should not be mocked when making a serious point about single mothers.

    But had he not boasted about being such a stud, he wouldn’t be subject to such jokes.

    Once again, the curse of our leader strikes down our credibility,.

    Can we have a leadership contest yet?

  • Hywel Morgan 10th Dec '08 - 3:21pm

    Because of course the last two have been so good for our credibility

  • Thomas Hemsley 10th Dec '08 - 3:58pm

    “But had he not boasted about being such a stud, he wouldn’t be subject to such jokes.”

    He didn’t…he said he had slept with ‘no more than 30 women’. Which is sort of the opposite. By your logic, William Hague is a drunk. (Which he isn’t, of course. I don’t want to get sued).

    MPs should be ashamed at themselves for laughing on such a serious question. Perhaps they could laugh at single mothers in the face during their constiuency surgeries and see the reaction.

  • He didn’t boast. He joked.

  • David Allen 10th Dec '08 - 4:37pm

    It’s a question of being a bit streetwise, surely. Ming shouldn’t have asked that question about failing schools changing their leadership just when we were doing that ourselves. Nick shouldn’t have said he’d been visited by a single female, he should have said he could cite the case of a single mother with problems, etc etc. Then he’d have avoided the trap.

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 10th Dec '08 - 5:12pm

    Well, in any case, fortunately on this occasion everyone is too busy laughing at Gordon Brown to laugh at Nick Clegg.

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 10th Dec '08 - 7:32pm

    Vince Cable seemed to think it was amusing, anyway.

  • Hywel Morgan 10th Dec '08 - 8:21pm

    The comments above do show the damage the deposing of Kennedy and Campbell did. Prior to that it would have been inconceivable for people to demand leadership elections.

    Even when Paddy was at the height of his machinations people held back. Now one PMQ goes badly and people are reaching for Article 10.2

  • I disagree with you all!

    I think it is good for us that Clegg is getting mocked in this way on this subject.

    It draws attention to his earlier comments (which means people are paying attention to him), it highlights Clegg’s humanity and it shows his ability to take a joke, but it also shows our opponents cruel intolerance and their ability to get easily sidetracked from the important issues which are of public concern.

    If Clegg intentionally chose to phrase his question in this way (knowing he would be mocked) it shows his foresight and his wider perspective, which makes him grow as a statesman.

    If Clegg unintentionally let the words fall out of his mouth it shows he is an instinctual and single-minded man, unconcerned about his own welfare when it comes to promoting the concerns of those in need, which shows him to be on the side of angels.

    …will he be able to keep it up as the number of his visitors inevitably increases?

    Clegg’s sharp new haircut is clearly affecting his popularity stakes… positively!

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 10th Dec '08 - 10:54pm

    Oranjepan

    “If Clegg intentionally chose to phrase his question in this way (knowing he would be mocked) it shows his foresight and his wider perspective, which makes him grow as a statesman.”

    I’ve long suspected you aren’t actually a Liberal Democrat, but an opponent seeking to bring down ridicule on the party by posting the most ludicrous opinions you can think of in the guise of a loyalist.

    You’ve finally convinced me that my suspicion is correct.

  • CCF,
    so you’ve got over yourself and have rejoined the party then?

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 10th Dec '08 - 11:43pm

    What on earth gave you that idea?

    Not that it’s any more ludicrous than any of your other ideas …

  • If you aren’t prepared to put your money where your mouth is what right do you have to complain that the party is being taken over by the likes of me or anyone else you might disagree with?

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 11th Dec '08 - 12:17am

    I’m not complaining that the party is being taken over by “the likes of you”, you idiot! I’m saying I don’t believe you’re a member of the party at all.

    Surely no one could be so utterly stupid as to think Clegg deliberately set himself up as the target of mockery, in order to show “his wider perspective” – whatever that means? Or could they? Maybe you’re going for a new world record, or something.

  • CCF,
    I’m more than happy to set myself up as a target for mockery if that is the best way to make my case. By responding in that tone you make my point for me.

  • Hywel Morgan 11th Dec '08 - 12:27am

    Laurence (and others)

    First, Chris lost. Second it was his own fault (calamity Clegg memo, a series of weird policy vacillations) which doesn’t suggest he would have been gaffe free as leader.

    It’s time to get over it.

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 11th Dec '08 - 12:33am

    Oranjepan

    Oh, come on! You’re not for real, are you?

    It’s not clever to carry on with the game after you’ve been rumbled. Own up now, and then go away and leave us in peace …

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 11th Dec '08 - 12:45am

    Andy Hinton

    You think it’s “not outlandish” to suggest that Clegg would deliberately evoke the Piers Morgan gaffe in order to get MPs to laugh at him, in order to “try to look disliked and bullied by the establishment”?

    What about Oranjepan’s other bizarre claims – that the £30 a week pension blunder was an attempt to make Clegg look more human? Or that the resignation of Lord Jacobs was a cunning plan to support the Lib Dems by telling the press that their policies were a disgrace?

    I may be wrong, but I reckon the bloke is just winding you all up.

  • CCF,
    I did not make those claims, just as I did not say with certainty that Clegg was deliberately calculating at PMQs. I simply cannot know this (and I’m not convinced that it is necessarily a good thing anyway).

    All I am doing is pointing out that it is possible to interpret actions in a variety of ways and therefore that we should be careful about jumping to conclusions based upon our own preconceptions.

    The complete picture is always more complex than any individual might believe on first glance, so why attempt to paint it in black and white?

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 11th Dec '08 - 1:02am

    Oranjepan

    I repeat – I reckon you’re trying to damage the party by posing as a supporter and posting the most ridiculous things you can think of in that guise.

    I can’t think of any other explanation that fits the facts.

  • Well, I think I’m starting to understand why you’ve stopped ponying up your subs.

    Where’s your imagination, where’s your vision, where’s your optimism gone?

  • Oranjepan wrote:

    “…will he (Clegg) be able to keep it up as the number of his visitors inevitably increases?”

    No, you didn’t REALLY write that, did you, Oranjepan?

    Hywel Morgan (no relation to Piers) wrote:

    “First, Chris lost. Second it was his own fault (calamity Clegg memo, a series of weird policy vacillations) which doesn’t suggest he would have been gaffe free as leader.”

    If my memory serves me right, when the campaign started, Clegg’s election was being presented in the media as an inevitability. He was this wonderful man, a latter-day messiah who would charm all before him. Then as the campaign got underway (and we had the TV debates) it became obvious to everyone (expect Linda Jack) that Huhne was by far the better candidate. One more week and Huhne would have won. How many members kicked themselves for voting too early?

    I don’t think it was the media that won it for Clegg, though they tried their damndest. It was the Parliamentary Party. All those MPs lining up to endorse the man who would give them the easier ride. It is they who must take the blame, and some will pay with their careers no doubt.

    They only way out, as I see it, is a palace coup followed by a Howard style coronation of Chris Huhne. Not very democratic, but do we really want another leadership election shambles 18 months before a general election where the wrong candidate wins once again?

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 11th Dec '08 - 8:55am

    “Where’s your imagination, where’s your vision, where’s your optimism gone?”

    I repeat, I don’t think you’re for real.

    I think all these bizarre things you come out with are just a huge, elaborate wind-up.

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 11th Dec '08 - 9:57am

    Jennie

    What I was disagreeing with was the crazy suggestion that Clegg may have deliberately engineered the ridicule – which was of a piece with his other crazy suggestions recently, such as that Clegg may only have been pretending not to have a clue what the state pension was.

    Sorry if you think I’m being “childish” for saying I don’t believe a word of it, and I don’t believe Oranjepan is for real. But at least as I’ve left the party I’m not obliged to live up to your ideas about what a “supposed Liberal” should be …

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 11th Dec '08 - 10:13am

    Jennie

    This is what I can’t understand about people like you. You complain that other people are wasting time arguing about something – and almost invariably your only comment on what’s actually being argued about is something vacuous along the lines of “a plague on both your houses”, or “I agree with A when he says the sky is blue”. And you couple your complaints about “childishness” with statements like “you look like a prize arse”. And all at once we have another ping-pong match of your own creation!

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 11th Dec '08 - 10:32am

    Jennie

    Ah yes, I thought the “T word” was overdue.

    “Liberals” who can’t encounter someone who has a different opinion without calling them names …

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 11th Dec '08 - 10:48am

    Well, now I really have been told. Obviously I’d better shut up.

  • Liam Pennington 11th Dec '08 - 12:22pm

    CCF – Jennie said that the childness came in the ping-pong of comments, not the comments themselves.

    Reading what you THINK it says, and reading what it ACTUALLY says, are two different things.

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 11th Dec '08 - 1:21pm

    Liam

    “Reading what you THINK it says, and reading what it ACTUALLY says, are two different things.”

    I understood perfectly what Jennie said. She was indeed accusing me of being childish, as she went on to confirm in her next comment.

  • David Allen 11th Dec '08 - 6:10pm

    I’m sure Oranjepan is a true Lib Dem, and that he seriously means what he says. I don’t think what he says is crazy. However, I do think it’s wrong. Ridicule really, really matters in politics. Ignore that at your peril.

    Hague was toast once he’d been ridiculed about that baseball cap.

    Ming was toast once he’d been ridiculed with “Declare your interest!” on that question about pensioners.

    Steel was toast once Spitting Image ridiculed him with that puppet of Steel in Owen’s pocket.

    Gordon could well be toast, now that he’s saved the world.

    Clegg will be toast if he can’t get away from Cleggover.

    The way to do that is NOT to ask a question about a single mother who “came to see me”. Almost anything would have been better, for example “came to my constituency surgery”. In Gordon’s defence, at least he was having to think on his feet. Clegg had all the time in the world to get the phrasing of his (very valid) question right. Let’s hope this new guy knows a thing or two about effective communication!

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 11th Dec '08 - 7:25pm

    “… the utterly juvenile behaviour of the other parties yesterday does nothing to further the reputation of Westminster in the eyes of an increasingly jaded public …”

    Certainly. But to suggest Clegg might have deliberately provoked that in order to benefit from some kind of sympathy vote, or that he might deliberately have pretended to think the state pension was £30 a week, in order to make himself look more human is to lose all contact with reality.

  • CCF,
    there are different ways of looking at the same thing.

    I don’t claim that either of the alternative perspectives I suggested are exclusively or necessarily correct, but I think it does help to have second thoughts about the broader impact.

    Does George Osborne know what is the price of a pint of milk or half a dozen eggs? Does this help or hinder his economic analysis?

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 11th Dec '08 - 9:14pm

    “Does George Osborne know what is the price of a pint of milk or half a dozen eggs? Does this help or hinder his economic analysis?”

    I’d have thought it would be obvious even to you that believing anyone could survive on £1.5K a year would be a handicap in thinking about economic policy.

    But we’ve been over that ad nauseam. The point I’m making is that no politician in his right mind would pretend he believed such a thing. The idea is preposterous.

  • CCF,
    do you think Clegg outperformed Brown at PMQs? Is backbench appreciation for potential innuendo as high as their scorn for hubris?

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 11th Dec '08 - 11:04pm

    My point is simply that it’s ridiculous to suggest Clegg might have deliberately provoked the ridicule.

    All this other stuff you keep coming out with is irrelevant to that question.

  • Jennie,

    I don’t think it’s a question of what we want to be accepting, or not accepting. It’s a question of what the great British public think about it all.

    Now I grant you that the GBP give low marks to politicians who spend all their time playing silly games. But they also give low marks to politicians who are dumb enough to make silly mistakes and leave themselves open to ridicule.

    If we’re talking about po-faced moralising, well, in my view one kind of po-faced moralising is to make derogatory comments about “schoolboy” humour. I’m going to stand up for the “schoolboys”. When people say they don’t like schoolboy humour, I think they often just don’t have much of a sense of humour at all.

    I confess a sneaking admiration for the unnamed MP who had the wit to respond to Clegg’s “a single mother came to see me” by yelling out “31!” I’m the sort of prat who would have loved to have thought of that first. (Comes with a comedian’s name, I suppose.)

    And since the underlying target of the joke was male arrogance, I think we might even call it a politically correct joke!

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