PMQs: Nick Clegg comes back from Cornwall

clegg on leveson 2I stopped doing PMQ write-ups some time ago. They were getting so repetitive and mind-numbingly pointless that I was losing the will to live.

Today’s exchange between Nick Clegg and Harriet Harman was typical of the genre. Harriet Harman made some very good prepared points, and Nick Clegg blasted away on Labour’s record and mentioned some good bits from this government’s record. There was a lot huing and crying and then everyone went to lunch.

Here is how Andrew Sparrow recorded the exchange on the Guardian Politics Live blog:

Nick Clegg says he spent one day in Cornwall last week (on autumn statement day). Labour MPs have been spending five years in cloud cuckoo land, he says.

Harriet Harman says it is good to see Clegg back in his place since he missed the autumn statement. Clegg has made seven cabinet appointments. How many have been women?

Clegg says Harman knows who he has appointed. But women have got things from this goverment they never got from Labour, such as better childcare and more flexible working.

Harman says Clegg is normally quite forthcoming when replying to questions about himself and women. Since tribunal charges were introduced, what has been the impact on sex discrimination cases?

Clegg says female unemployment rose under Labour. Women were given a 75p rise in the state pension. He cares more about those women than anyone around the cabinet table.

Harman says there has been a 90% fall in the number of sex discrimination cases. What percentage of millionaires getting the top rate tax cut have been women?

Clegg says increasing the basic rate threshold has gone disproportionately to women.

Harman says those tax cuts have been wiped out by the impact of other cuts. Some 85% of people gaining from the top rate tax have been men. How many people affected by the bedroom tax are women?

Clegg says there are more women in the boardroom, and the gender pay gap has been virtually abolished for the under-40s.

Harman says most of those affected by the bedroom tax are women.

Clegg says it is time to call out Harman on Labour’s record. Youth unemployment,, child poverty, pensioner poverty and income tax for middle income were higher. This side of the House has had to clear up the mess.

Harman says Clegg has demonstrated that he is out of touch with women’s lives. Clegg walks through the lobbies with the Tories. He briefs against them, but votes with them.

Clegg says the British people won’t trust Labour. Manufacturing jobs were lost faster under Labour than under Margaret Thatcher. And Andy Burnham is the only health secretary to privatise a hospital, he says.

Snap PMQs verdict: Virtuoso stitch-up job by Harman, with Clegg only making thing worse for himself by refusing to engage with her perfectly sound points.

UPDATE: You can watch the exchange below:

* 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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  • Alisdair McGregor 10th Dec '14 - 12:47pm

    I thought Clegg hammered Harriet at every turn, myself.

  • You’ll find me on the pro-Clegg side of the party and impressed by his ability to talk to voters directly, but that it was far from Nick’s best moment…

  • I thought that Clegg was everything he claims to despise about PMQ’s and was schooled in cool-headedness by Harmann. Usually they’re as bad as each other. A resounding victory for Harmann to those who listen to the content or a resounding victory for Clegg for those who think shouting without stumbling over your words is sufficient.

  • I know it is usual practice for Cameron to avoid answering a question during PMQ’s

    But I am not sure that Clegg answered a single question put to him by Harman.

    I think this was a clear win for Harman and Nick didn’t come out of that very well at all.

  • Only the issue of tribunal charges on sex discrimination cases was a genuine question, though I guess it applies to many other types of question, so it is really a more general, but very important question. Other than that Harman was just posturing to egg on the yah-boo stuff.

    I think there should be a considered response to the impact of tribunal charges. It would be good if Clegg or another senior Lib Dem issued a statement.

  • Paul in Wokingham 10th Dec '14 - 1:31pm

    Andrew Sparrow in The Guardian is fairly blunt I his analysis: “Harman didn’t just win the exchanges comfortably. She also effectively countered Clegg’s Lib Dem differentiation strategy… Why was Clegg so poor?… it was as if Clegg couldn’t be bothered. One reason might be that he doesn’t expect to be around for long after May 7th”.

  • Clegg should’ve given PMQs a swerve today. Hung, drawn & quartered and bleeding true blue blood. No longer liberal. Harman hammered Clegg and showed how much of a Tory he has now become. If reported by main stream media, then today is when he lost core LibDems.

  • Alisdair McGregor 10th Dec '14 - 2:21pm

    The interesting thing for me was that Harriet Harman asked all her questions about an issue that’s pure Westminster bubble, and Nick replied with answers about what’s happening out there in the real world.

    The naysayers populating the rest of this comment thread won’t acknowledge it, but Clegg won that because he’s actually talking to people outside the bubble, even when he’s not in Cornwall.

  • stuart moran 10th Dec '14 - 3:03pm

    Joe Otten

    The question should not have been taken in isolation

    What she was suggesting was that the LD have a poor track record in supporting women – women are key to a Labour victory in 2015. This is part of the strategy to emphasise that the Coalition is not doing much for women, and that the LD have a poor record on female representation, and Clegg hasn’t a good record on promoting them.

    It is a narrative and it has more truth than the ‘we would have gone bankrupt’, ‘Labour spending caused the financial crisis’ or ‘long term economic plan is working’ parroted by Alexander at every opportunity he gets.

    Alisdair McGregor

    Which part of the world outside the bubble do you live in? In my part women are bearing the brunt of the cuts and Nick Clegg is spoken of with contempt. He speaks for no-one in my area judging on the number of votes the LD have received in recent elections

  • @Alisdair McGregor

    Nick was 100% right in not going to the AS, talking to people outside of Westminster was an excellent decision – even more so as, by pure coincedence, he did so in held seats. The lobby mocked it, but I’m sure the reports is the local area will have more impact to the results in those seats.

    Today though it seemed more like sections of a Govt sanctioned script than the from the heart Liberal that he is at his best. Cameron is every inch the Tory leader when he is at the dispatch box, the coalition comes second when doing so – I wish Nick had done the same as the LibDem leader. We are Liberals first, coalition supporters (or non-supporters..,) second – I think Nick today got that order wrong.

    One session of PMQs though really does mean nothing at all though in the outside world, so here’s hoping Nick is next Wednesday talking to voters and local media instead.

  • David Evans 10th Dec '14 - 3:59pm

    Nick was a disaster. He will lead us to our worst result in a General Election ever. The leaders’ debates will be mayhem for the party (Would you believe him after last time?). Those saying hang on to him are just allowing the destruction to continue, because they dare not do anything. He has to go now.

  • To be honest, the real gem wasn’t at PMQs, it was at the points of order afterwards. Andy Burnham tried to claim that Clegg’s description of him as “the only man to have privatised an NHS hospital” was inaccurate, and the good doctor, Julian Huppert, asked who of Circle, Ramsey, or Serco was the NHS bidder.

  • On the first two questions (Female representation in the LD party – bang to rights and supported a top rate tax cut – ties us to the Tories) I have some sympathy with Clegg. Whilst I’d like a consensual PMQ’s I’m not sure accepting criticism is ever a winner in this forum!

    I think the third answer, given we now support the repeal of the bedroom tax, was a missed opportunity to show we are not ‘yellow tories’ and do have a distinctive position from our coalition partners.

  • Sarah Noble 10th Dec ’14 – 4:01pm – “To be honest, the real gem wasn’t at PMQs, it was at the points of order afterwards. Andy Burnham tried to claim that Clegg’s description of him as “the only man to have privatised an NHS hospital” was inaccurate, and the good doctor, Julian Huppert, asked who of Circle, Ramsey, or Serco was the NHS bidder.”

    Or was the real gem when John Bercow answered Burnham: if he had to correct MPs when they said something wrong, he would be very busy?

    Did Burnham as claimed by Clegg and Tories before him privatise Hinchingbrooke? Y/N?,


    Did ConDems use Lab and privatise it under their watch? Y/N?

    One other thing: which of Circle, Ramsey, or Serco did Burnham specifically invite into taking part of the Hinchingbrooke process ?

    Lastly, and most importantly, were you proud of how Clegg conducted himself at PMQs, is that what you expect of a Liberal Democrat Leader?

  • Joe Otten,

    It’s fairly simple: a group dominated by men got a tax cut whilst a group consisting mostly women got a penalty. If rhetoric is your objection try unpicking the nonsense of Clegg’s replies.

  • Jayne Mansfield 10th Dec '14 - 5:04pm

    I have listened to PMQ’s a couple of times and wonder who bothers. I found it a a charade that generated more heat than light and an example of boorish bad behaviour that most parents’ would not tolerate from their children.

    Haven’t MPs got something better to do with their time?

  • Jimble: Burnham absolutely did privatise Hinchingbrooke, by eliminating the only NHS bidders. That is beyond dispute.

  • Joe Otten,

    I thought you were complaining about the use of rhetoric. If so, you shouldn’t then only observe it on one side of the exchange when it so obviously applies to both, you definitely should not then go on to indulge in it yourself. My logic is that there is a simple understanding of Harriet Harman’s questions and it is to make a political point, she succeeded. Your extrapolation from my point to some logical position on debatable facts is of your own invention as is your attribution of an inevitable logical position to the question asked by Harmann.

  • What annoys me about PMQ’s is the fact no one answers the question. The lack of a female Lib Dem cabinet minister is a problem for Clegg and one he has had nearly 5 years to avoid.

    I would like to see the Speaker intervene whenever questions are avoided.

    On the NHS issue it seems to me everyone is a bit wrong but Labour can add hypocrisy to wrongness…

    Unless the deal was finalised under Labour then it could have been pulled. If the contracts were signed under the coalition like it or not this government not the last one privatised the hospital.

    Of course the perfectly reasonable approach Clegg could have taken is that to cancel the process would have been too costly and therefore the coalition were left with no option but to follow the Labour plan to it’s conclusion.

    So pedantically I guess it boils down to when the contract was signed, morally though the issue lies with Labour.

  • John Broggio 10th Dec '14 - 8:42pm

    “Except JRC, that the top quintile/decile whatever (mostly men) is paying more than before. ”

    When the wondrous top quintile/decile/whatever have, say, 99% of the income and pay nearly 100% of income taxes, some will wonder why those on the left (of centre) are not to be found celebrating such magnificent generosity…

  • John Broggio 10th Dec '14 - 8:43pm

    Sorry, should be “reach” instead of “have”.

  • @Steve Way:

    “The lack of a female Lib Dem cabinet minister is a problem for Clegg and one he has had nearly 5 years to avoid.”

    And how should he have ‘avoided'(sic) the problem? The only female MP worth considering for this role is Lynne Featherstone and the only Cabinet member she might be more able than is Danny Alexander. Not the person Nick Clegg is most likely to sack. This is nothing to do with gender, just the individuals concerned.

    Perhaps he should have persuaded David Cameron to appoint Jenny Tonge as Foreign Secretary?

  • Sarah Noble 10th Dec ’14 – 8:04pm – “Jimble: Burnham absolutely did privatise Hinchingbrooke, by eliminating the only NHS bidders. That is beyond dispute.”

    Cold hard facts: Burnham set up the process and was in charge when short-listing of the providers occurred. ConDems signed the contracts that actually privatised the hospital, so Clegg was wrong in his statement.

    That said, if Labour had won the 2010 election, Burnham would have been left with his process and short-listed candidates and any sane person would have to conclude that it would have been privatised .

  • No-one has yet answered: are you proud of how Clegg conducted himself at PMQs, is that what you expect of a Liberal Democrat Leader?

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Dec '14 - 10:57am

    We need to be establishing our independence between the two main parties, and to have a neutral approach to them by the general election. Clegg defending, and seeming to show enthusiastic support for, a mostly Tory government, and aggressively attacking Labour isn’t doing this, is it?

    What is happening here shows clearly why we should have pulled out of the coalition well before the general election. There’s no longer the stability issue, because the government is going to be open to replacement anyway in 6 months’ time. We need to be going into the election fighting against the Tories, after all most of our MPs have Tories as their main opponents, and most of the seats we used to regard as winnable are Tory-held. What is going into it saying “me too” to Tory policies, and repeating the very dubious lines Tories used to defend their policies going to do to our vote?

  • @Tony Dawson
    Ignoring your sarcasm re Jenny Tonge. He could have moved Lynne Featherstone into environment when forced to make that change. I would personally think Jo Swinson would also be worthy of consideration. He could also have ensured either of them attended Cabinet as he did with David Laws who should never hve been brought back into Government after he was shown to be dishonest.

    He chose not to, and if he believes he did so for the right reasons he should defend his choice.

  • David Allen 11th Dec '14 - 4:24pm

    If Clegg had been a Tory spokesperson, I would have had some sympathy for his performance. It’s always easier to attack than to defend. Harman did well, but she also had it relatively easy.

    But, but, but – A Tory spokesperson would have been impelled to defend the Government’s record, all of it. A Tory spokeperson would have had to support government policy right down the line, on all the marvellous things the Coalition has done for women, on tribunal charges, on cutting the top rate of tax, and on the bedroom tax. That’s exactly what Clegg did.

  • David Allen 11th Dec '14 - 4:25pm

    A Tory spokesperson would have wanted to condemn Labour at every conceivable opportunity. A Tory spokesperson might have been quite pleased to have got in a whole string of anti-Labour jibes about (in sequence) cloud cuckoo land, childcare, flexible working, female unemployment, youth unemployment, child poverty, pensioner poverty, income tax for middle incomes, that “British people won’t trust Labour”, loss of manufacturing jobs being faster under Labour than under Margaret Thatcher, and Burnham being “the only health secretary to privatise a hospital”. That’s eleven separate anti-Labour jibes. That’s exactly what Clegg did.

  • David Allen 11th Dec '14 - 4:26pm

    A Tory spokesperson would have got a reasonable rating for today’s performance – stolid, boring and slavishly pro-Conservative, but avoiding any hint of dissent with Cameron, and remorselessly criticising Labour throughout.

  • David Allen 11th Dec '14 - 4:26pm

    Except that Clegg is not a Tory spokesperson.

    Or so they say.

  • David Allen 11th Dec '14 - 4:27pm

    Sorry, the four posts above were originally one post, but that didn’t get allowed publication!

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