Village People: Clegg's remote control

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Indy Politics

Nick Clegg earned plaudits from the former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown for his masochistic decision to appear in a television debate with an audience of 20 students.

The Deputy Prime Minister stayed calm and conciliatory as the young people, who face leaving university with debts as great as the annual fees at Westminster School, where Clegg was educated, accused him of not knowing what it was like to carry such a burden. But Lord Ashdown has said privately that he was less impressed by the way Mr Clegg reinforced the impression of remoteness by being filmed leaving in a chauffeur-driven limousine.

Drivers get the flak

The Political Scrapbook website has turned up a shocking statistic buried in a report called the Civil Service People Survey, published this month. It shows that across the entire Civil Service, the group of employees who have complained most about bullying or intimidation are the drivers who chauffeur ministers and senior civil servants hither and thither. No fewer than 23 per cent say they suffered harassment at work in the past 12 months. Who are these vile-tempered beasts venting their frustrations on their drivers?

Tale of two Oscars

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, sought to disarm the veteran MP and former star of the screen Glenda Jackson with flattery as she laid into the Government over the closure of children's centres the other day. "The Lady is passionate and I do not doubt her commitment," he said.

"Don't patronise me!" came the cry from across the Commons floor.

"The Lady has won an Oscar for being successfully patronising to others," said Gove. "Two Oscars!" came the retort. Get it right, minister.

Balls has memory slip

The shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, came over all respectful of parliamentary niceties this week as he rebuked George Osborne for announcing on the Today programme that he is taking £800m from the banks, instead of saving the announcement for the Commons. "He's trying to distract attention away in this rather unusual announcement at 7.30 in the morning, but I don't think he's going to succeed," said Mr Balls. Could this be the same Ed Balls who was chief adviser to a previous shadow chancellor, Gordon Brown, who created a political sensation in January 1997 when he announced that a Labour government would not raise the basic or top rates of income tax – on the Today programme?

Just good friends

But respect is due to Mr Balls for his absence of cowardice in describing Eric Illsley as a "good friend" on the day that the former Labour MP for Barnsley Central was sentenced to a year in jail for expenses fraud. No one in the Westminster village came forward to say anything similar about the sad ex-MP for Livingston, Jim Devine, convicted of fraud on the same day. Devine stepped into a dead man's shoes in 2005 when the former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook had a fatal heart attack. There doesn't seem to be anyone who thinks he was anything but a poor substitute. One of the most scathing verdicts came from Margaret Cook, whom Robin abandoned to marry his secretary. "He was never a great favourite and I didn't feel he did a lot for Robin as his agent over the years. Jim didn't match up to Robin in any way," she told the Sunday Mail.