PMQs: Are Clegg, Cameron and Osborne now leaders of the besieged centre?

There was plenty of interest in the House of Commons today, but first Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman unexpectedly managed to embarrass herself

Share
Related Topics

Harriet Harman has been around for so long that she is now deputy to the office junior who used to chase after her retrieving her coat from wherever she had left it. That gives her a solidity at the despatch box. She ploughs on, unembarrassable. Which means that the main interest of Prime Minister’s Questions when the principals are away is usually how Nick Clegg handles the Conservatives behind him.

There was plenty of interest there today, but first Harman unexpectedly managed to embarrass herself. When she got to the fifth of her six questions, she decided to take Clegg up on his claim that the Liberal Democrats exercised real influence in the coalition Government. Yes they had, she said. Without them, we would not have had the bedroom tax, the tripling of tuition fees and a top-down reorganisation of the NHS. “Even I know the difference between the brake and the accelerator.” That not only sounded like everyday sexism but reminded everyone that she has been done for driving without due care and attention.

Also, it was pointless pantomime politics that ended with Clegg bellowing, “Without the Liberal Democrats there wouldn’t be a recovery.” Which, of course, the Tories loved and cheered loudly.

It was left to junior MPs of all three parties to ask more subtle questions that made life hard for Clegg and teased out a few telling answers.

Lucy Powell and Phil Wilson, the Labour MPs, asked sharp questions designed to divide Clegg from the Tories. Powell asked about the expected reintroduction tomorrow, in the Autumn Statement, of the Married Man’s Allowance, emphasising the middle word. The Deputy Prime Minister muttered in gender-neutral language about the “so-called marriage tax break”, but didn’t say anything.

Wilson asked him what he thought of the Tory party’s “hostility to the European Union”, which he said was “bad for business and bad for British jobs”. George Osborne, sitting next to Clegg, shook his head dismissively at this pathetic attempt to cause mischief. “I agree,” said the Deputy Prime Minister.

After this, time dragged a bit. The session lacked the edge, and volume, of the real thing, although Speaker John Bercow still managed to interrupt a few times to spoil what fun there was. I tried counting how many MPs were on Twitter on their phones or iPads, but there weren’t many, so I went back to wondering why Iain Duncan Smith, Work and Pensions Secretary, always stands at the end of the chamber opposite the Speaker’s Chair. Suddenly Bercow called out, “Charles Kennedy!”

His name wasn’t on the order paper, but the Speaker has to call occasional MPs who “catch his eye” to alternate questions from government and opposition sides. I hadn’t even noticed that the Lib Dem former leader was in the chamber.

Kennedy’s question was long, elaborate and a bit too clever. He asked Clegg to congratulate the Chancellor, Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister on their pro-EU actions rather than their Eurosceptic words. The Deputy Prime Minister suspected a trap and praised his predecessor’s mischievous wit instead.

The final awkward question was the last one, from Peter Bone, the Eurosceptic Tory who usually asks questions about what would happen if something horrible happened to the Prime Minister, to which the answer is, no, Clegg would not take over, but Clegg does not want to say so. This time, though, Bone started by saying, “I think he’s turning into a Tory,” and tested his hypothesis by asking if the Deputy Prime Minister supported the (illegal) extension of immigration controls on Romanians and Bulgarians beyond the end of the month. He didn’t, but he did repeat his support for the Government’s tough rules on claiming benefits, which many Lib Dems must find almost as aggravating.

The net effect of the session was to suggest that Clegg, Cameron and Osborne are the leaders of a centre party, besieged by Labour on the other side and Eurosceptic Conservatives on their own. A position that is probably more uncomfortable for the Prime Minister, in his absence, than for his deputy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The law is too hard on sexting teenagers

Memphis Barker
 

Obama must speak out – Americans are worried no one is listening to them

David Usborne
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes