Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Nick Clegg is mired in the detail of his McJob


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There are times, watching Nick Clegg taking Commons questions, when you can’t help wondering whether he might have been better off insisting on a great office of state rather than the grand but more nebulous job he has. “I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his interest in Wiltshire and Swindon’s local growth deal,” declaimed Duncan Hames, adding for good measure: “He will have seen our second round bid for the digital Corsham project.”

This was all clearly intended as a compliment, which from the perspective of north Wiltshire it obviously is. But you have to wonder whether such detailed “interest” fits the responsibilities of someone as senior as Clegg.

Today there was a sense of the party circling its wagons in anticipation of electoral onslaught. Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Simon Hughes were all on the front bench in solidarity, if that’s the word. Absent was Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, no doubt limbering up for the lunch at which he treated journalists to the revelation  that George Osborne padlocks his office refrigerator, allegedly in order to prevent his ministerial colleagues at the Treasury from stealing his milk.

The Lib Dem leader now gives as good as he gets in these events. Challenged by the long-time Clegg-baiter Peter Bone about his blocking of the Tory backbench referendum Bill, Clegg confirmed this was in retaliation for the Conservatives doing the same to a Lib Dem Bill which would have taken the teeth out of the bedroom tax.  “If the Hon Gent did not like what happened, he should address his own party’s leadership, not me”

It was Bone who once proposed the abolition of the Deputy Prime Minister – one of the milder suggestions in an otherwise borderline-deranged right-wing “alternative Queen’s Speech”. But you can’t help feeling he might have been doing Clegg a favour if it had passed. The Lib Dem leader might be Foreign Secretary by now.