Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. We may have a PMQs format that is uninspiring and tends towards that “YA, BOO, GRRR” style of ‘debate’. And we may have a Prime Minister who seems almost pathologically incapable of answering a question. But he’s a paragon of transparent virtue when placed alongside the Deputy PM.
You’d think Clegg would be better at taking a baracking than this. His regular DPMQs sessions (of which this was merely a more elaborate version) are well attended. They provide an opportunity for miffed right wingers behind him and aggreived left wingers in front of him to tear a strip off the most unloved many in Parliament. And in fairness to him – and I’m rarely fair to him – he has been getting a bit better in those sessions. He rolls with the punches. He shows an occasional sense of humour.
None of that was in evidence today.
Clegg was happy to mention protests at his own conference, despite it being held in an area – the North East – where only two years ago they were a credible second party. Now they’re toast. Because the old trick of running to the left of Labour won’t cut it anymore. And yet that’s exactly what he tried today, attacking Labour’s privatisation agenda, and its relationship with the city. A cheap trick, and one that falls apart on its first reaction with reality. This after all is a man propping up a full-blooded Tory government, with no real concessions. The only thing he’s to the left of is the cabinet. And even then, that’s not certain.
Question after question was responded to with further questions. Surely Cleggy has sat solemnly through enough of these outings by now to udnerstand that he’s supposed to answer the questions, not ask them. Then again, if you’re learning at the knee of David Cameron you might not have picked that up. What Nick really wanted to use today’s session to do – bizarrely – was to pin the blame for Labour government decisions on Harriet Harman. She’s was Brown’s Deputy after all.
Poor Nick. It seems that he’s the only person in Westminster who realises that the Deputy doesn’t really make the decisions. Someone should tell him, it might help avoid further embarrassment.
Clegg’s lacklustre performance ensured that this (not really a) PMQs was a flat affair. To continue with the usual theme of tortured sporting metaphors, it was like watching the League Cup. It’s still football, many of the same players are there, but that’s where the similarity ends. The passion appears forced. The result is irrelevant. It’s questionable whether this even counts as “a good work out” for the participants. Even the crowd aren’t that bothered.
There was one good line from Harman that appeared to wound Clegg, comparing him unfavourably to Liberal giants of the past. However it’s a false comparison. Clegg actually comes off quite well when compared to David Steel or Menzies Campbell. The problem is actually that there are few giants in British politics anymore. How well do current Labour figures compare to Kier Hardie, Clement Attlee, Barbara Castle or Nye Bevan? How does Cameron compare to Churchill? The comparison is false, and only serves to re-inforce the fact that our politics and our politicians look Liliputian compared with their forebears.
And after a lackluste, reserve team outing like today’s, that’s not something we needed to be reminded of.