Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Osborne makes sure Clegg’s on message


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Indy Politics

Last week Nick Clegg snubbed George Osborne’s big day.

Yesterday Osborne paid him back by coming to Clegg’s big day – standing in at PMQs – and sitting next him, commissar-like, in case he went off message. It seemed to work. Given the Lib Dems’ current identity crisis over whether they’re part of an economically brilliant government, or deadly enemies of their state-shrinking partners, we’d wondered which way Clegg would jump. We soon knew.

Having “refused” to attend the Autumn Statement, asked Labour’s Jonathan Reynolds, “which parts” of it did Clegg object to? It was a “Coalition statement,” he insisted. “I spent one day in Cornwall; Opposition members have spent five years in cloud cuckoo land.” Osborne gave a watery smile of approval.

Complaining how badly women had fared since 2010, Harriet Harman asked how many female Lib Dem Cabinet members Clegg appointed. (None.) “She knows exactly who the members of the Cabinet are!” he said, grumpily.

It was “unlike him” not to answer “because normally when he is asked about numbers and women, he is quite forthcoming.” This recalled Clegg’s laddish 2008 estimate to GQ that he had slept with “no more than” 30 women.

Clegg then declared: “The Labour Party is becoming the Lance Armstrong of British politics.” Was he sensationally suggesting that Team Miliband was taking performance-enhancing drugs to improve poll ratings? Sadly not. It was just that “it has forgotten the better half of a decade of how it messed things up.”

The Tories quite liked this – and his stumble over what to call his more leftish colleague Vince Cable. Answering a question on small businesses, Clegg stammered: “I know that the right honourable Member... Minister... my” – ‘friend?’ interjected Tory Michael Fabricant – “My right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Business…” Clegg said finally through gritted teeth. When you need the flaxen-barneted Mickey Fab’s help, you’re struggling. Maybe Clegg should have snubbed himself and not turned up at all.