The Sketch: Now even the Tories pick on Nick Clegg
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt. As Political Editor and then Chief Political Commentator, he previously covered the John Major and early Tony Blair era. He has written for the Daily Express, Sunday Times, Times and Sunday Telegraph, and Sunday Correspondent. He is the author of Mandelson and the Making of New Labour (2000).
Tuesday 12 February 2013
It didn't need much imagination to know what Andrew Mitchell was doing today, listening attentively to a statement by Theresa May on "police integrity". If you were a former cabinet minister convinced that you had, not to put too fine a point it, been fitted up by the Old Bill, you too would probably slip into one of the benches just inside the door of the chamber and hear what the Home Secretary was intending to do about rogue coppers.
Particularly if your grievance had been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which she was now beefing up to improve its rather sorry investigation rate. He stayed only for about 15 minutes. But, along with a wide Commons welcome for the May statement, his silent presence was another reminder that "public concern about the integrity of the police", as Ms May described it, is no longer something only a minority of left-wing MPs bang on about.
No such cross-party harmony had enveloped Nick Clegg earlier. In fact, it was a day to wonder how much fun it must be to be Deputy Prime Minister when you are kicked around by all sides – notably including the Tories you are supposed to be in coalition with.
He might expect Labour MPs such as Kerry McCarthy to ask "in the light of the current horse-meat scandal" what advice would he "give to consumers and Liberal Democrat voters who think they are buying one thing but end up with something completely different?"
But he might have hoped to be spared Tory backbencher Andrea Leadsom pointedly asking, post-EU summit, if he regretted saying last November that there was "absolutely no prospect of securing a real-terms cut in the EU budget". Or Christopher Chope complaining that "collective ministerial responsibility" was being "set aside", just after the DPM had admitted there was a "grown-up" disagreement over the European Convention on Human Rights.
To be fair, he slapped down Chope by saying that collective responsibility applied only to policies that had been decided on. But then he was stabbed from behind by a Tory backbencher who actually copied Clegg's Labour shadow, Harriet Harman, by harrying him on the "bedroom tax".
What, Gordon Henderson wanted to know, should he say to his paraplegic constituent, Glen, who lived in a "specially converted two-bedroom bungalow" with one room used by a carer, and now having to pay an extra £14 per week?
This may indicate, of course, Clegg's usefulness as a punchbag for Tory backbenchers who might be less keen to air their complaints in public to a Conservative minister. Or that Labour warnings about benefit cuts hurting constituents of Tory MPs just as much are hitting home. Or both.
And why are 'southern' ways of speaking spreading north?
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