Simon Carr: Fresh as Botticelli's Venus, Clegg presented his unwanted Bill

Sketch: The Lib Dems have been led out of bondage but they're not behaving like grateful Israelites
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The Independent Online

Lonely is the thingummy that wears the whatsit. As Sir Peter Tapsell pointed out, there wasn't a single Conservative cabinet minister sitting with Nick Clegg on the front bench for the second reading of his You Can't Get Rid of Us Bill.

And not a single friendly question from his Tory allies, nor from Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru or even from his own party – a mere dozen of whom took the time to attend sullenly on the backbenches. Not a murmur of support from them, and not a glance from him in their direction, not a wave, not a flutter of his handkerchief.

They're very hard to please, the Lib Dems. They've been led out of bondage but they're not behaving like grateful Israelites; no, they're irritable tribalists complaining about the lack of footwear, babycare and bottled water on the long march to the Promised Land. And they've hardly got beyond the bypass. What is it going to be like when they are reviled by men?

Won't they split and tear the Coalition apart? Well they can't, and that's the point of Nick's Bill.

Clegg himself is, actually, phenomenal. He's been in Parliament five years, he's never had a government job, he's read the Idiot's Guide to Procedure and he's putting through Bills that no one seems to want or like.

And yet look at him standing at the dispatch box, he is as fresh as Botticelli's Venus in her shell, sublimely confident, brushing aside learned objections and presenting his specious arguments in the most aimiable and assertive way.

Parliamentary terms will be fixed now at five years as "three of the last five parliaments have been five years". Yes, but only because they were administrations on their last legs, clutching at the last remnants of power.

This Bill ensures that the Coalition will be provided with crutches and mobility devices to get it from here to the finishing post. It's "gerrymandering the constitution to suit the Coalition" (Bernard Jenkin, Tory).

Oh no it's not, Clegg said. Fixed-term Parliaments "remove the right of the Prime Minister to call an election for political gain".

No one believes it but it has elan.

And what happens if the Coalition should fall apart. Ah, that's even cleverer. They were proposing a 55 per cent vote to get rid of the Government. "But we consulted and found dissatisfaction with that. We listened to those arguments and saw that it needed to be a majority of (not of 50 per cent plus 1 vote, as now) ... 66 per cent."

I'd missed that. Half the Coalition partners – all the Social Democrats for instance – could split off and there still wouldn't be a 66 per cent majority to disssolve Parliament. That, Clegg said, was giving "additional power to the Commons". What confidence, to abolish confidence votes. It'll get him through the next two conferences, at least.

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