The Sketch: No more lies, they shouted – and that was inside the Commons

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The Independent Online

Outside Parliament students protested over tuition fees. Whistles, drums, chanting, a firework. "They've been lucky with the weather," a policeman said in an amiable, English way.

The placards were often obscene. One said "WE ARE YOUR FUTRURE" [sic]. It might have been a joke – but not as memorable as the Tea Party placard saying: "There is nothing to fear but fear itself. And spiders."

So outside Parliament it was all in good humour with a sing-along that went "Who the *#@! is David Cameron". Inside the House there was a less consensual atmosphere.

"No more lying!" That was the bravest line Harriet took yesterday at PMQs. No more what? What did she mean by it? She might as well have raised her banner for "No more politics!"

She was in a pickle about both recently, having expelled Phil Woolas from the party and infringed his human rights on account of lies we won't know he actually told until his appeal goes through. Her back bench are appalled at the precedent. No lying in elections? What about smear-spreading and slur-casting – them too? It'll be ballot forging and box-switching next. How are they supposed to win elections – it's political correctness gone mad!

Harriet was standing in for Ed Miliband. Labour's low-motility leader has been in the news for the first time in months as his partner has given birth.

"We're thrilled!" Nick Clegg told a laughing House. Are we?

Hated Harriet stood up without a murmur of support and yet with a well-weighted question she roused her side to resentful admiration. "During the election he promised to abolish tuition fees. Can he update the House on how it's going?" Laughter, then louder laughter. "I acknowledge," Nick Clegg said, producing shouts of laughter.

What do we think of Nick Clegg? There's no easy answer to that. He has amazing confidence and the suppleness of a yogic master. In five years' time he might be exactly where he is now saying exactly the opposite.

For now, he defended himself with a dashing counter-attack: Labour had opposed tuition fees in 1997 and top-up fees in 2001 – the very things they went on to introduce.

The argument sounded strong when Harriet made it, but stronger when Nick batted it back. It's a hall of mirrors with both sides pointing at each other saying the same thing. Clegg was able to trump an accusation of changing his mind with the triumphant response: "Make up your mind!"

One of the backbenchers pointed out that low-income earners would be paying back their loans at £30 a month. Ahhh! That's why they're increasing life expectancy so much.

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