The Sketch: Clegg refuses to be drawn into the Coulson scandal. And who can blame him?

  • @SimonSketch

It's been an interim Parliament so far, and with Cameron away with his family we had an intermission to the interlude. No doubt there is a frenzy going on in corners, crevices and committee rooms but in the chamber it's dreamy.

It's still very nice in Nice, they must be thinking, and hotel rates have dropped 30 per cent since they've had to come back. How they must be cursing the name of David Winnick (he's the Savonarola who kept making this great call to virtue). "Work harder and longer for less money!" They hate it. But don't we all?

Anyway, there we were. The first PMQs of the hiatus fell to the deputies. Jack Straw and Nick Clegg went swinging away at each other. Each was careful not to get close enough to land a proper blow. Nick got a booby prize for being the first member of the Government to say: "I'll take no lessons from the benches opposite." It had to happen sometime.

He answered most hostile questions with the words: "The legacy we inherited" or "Damian McBride." Labour groans but there's another three years of that to come.

The really unpleasant questions came from coalition partners. Christopher Chope asked whether losing the vote on the referendum Bill would mean the Lib-Dems leaving the Coalition (that would hardly be in the national interest, would it?). And that little Scotch blowtorch Eleanor Laing blazed away at the £100m it will cost to have the referendum. You can't laugh that sort of thing off – but Nick does still have a nice laugh. It's early days.

Straw opened up very decently by saying he was "absolutely sure [Cameron] had made exactly the right decision" by going to the side of his sick father. That's not what everyone in the Labour party was saying, not by any means, and it was noteworthy how few of his backbenchers nodded in agreement. All they need is a leader for things to get really nasty. Not long to wait now.

Straw led with the great opportunity they sense – taking the head of the PM's head of communications. Was Clegg himself satisfied that Andy Coulson was unaware of lawbreaking while he was editor of The News of the World?

This is covered by the Ashcroft assurance. It's a non-answer because it comes at one remove, "we have been assured that". In this case, it's at two removes. Andy Coulson has assured David Cameron and David Cameron has assured Nick Clegg and Nick Clegg has – actually declined the opportunity to give any assurances at all. It isn't really his problem.

I mean, you wouldn't expect the colonel of the Black and Tans being held responsible for the behaviour of his troopers would you? Oh, you would, is that how it works? Well then, that's a bit of a problem for Cameron, isn't it? Oh, it isn't. Why not? Well, there's the legacy they inherited. And of course, Damian McBride. And don't they know there's a war on in Afghanistan, for heaven's sake?