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Nick Clegg at Prime Minister's Question Time - Unemployment down in Corby!

November 8, 2012 6:22 AM
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

Nick leaving downing StreetMatthew Parris in the Times

I know PMQs doesn't matter and I realise you may not be a fan of Nick Clegg. But the Deputy Prime Minister was really, really good yesterday. Deft, brisk and quick-fire, he packed quite a punch.

Nick Clegg wins PMQs cheers from the most unlikely of MPs - James Forsyth in the Spectator

I have rarely seen Nick Clegg enjoy Prime Minister's Questions as much as he did today. Freed from the tyranny of the binder of answers, Clegg answered the questions in a confident and confrontational manner. The usual jeers from the other side of the House didn't put him off his stride today.

One thing that was striking was how often Clegg referred to the Lib Dem-inspired coalition move to raise the income tax thresholds. The Liberal Democrat leadership is convinced that this policy is beginning to pay dividends for the party and that they'll receive the credit for the big increase in April.

Clegg also took the chance to take several jabs at Labour. He declared that you can't trust Labour on the economy, mocked - to Tory cheers - Ed Balls for denying that there had been a structural deficit and predicted that at the next election voters would remember who had created the mess in the first place.

But the moment when you realised that this really was Clegg's day was when Peter Bone, that thorn in the Deputy Prime Minister's side, rose to ask a supportive question about the two parties coming 'together in the national interest to clear up the mess that Labour have left them'.

Husky Clegg woos the Tories - SAM MACRORY in the House

After a hard day's hard sell in the Gulf and a long night watching results trickle in from the States, David Cameron decided that this Prime Minister's Question Time wasn't worth catching an early flight for.

He may have had a point. MPs looked bleary-eyed. So did the hacks. Nick Clegg, the PM's stand in at the Despatch Box, arrived with a voice so husky that Mr Cameron would have been reaching for the Arctic winter wear. Clegg had even arrived without notes, and ruefully commented that he was "used to it" after the Speaker intervened to stop a surround-sound barracking of the DPM who, he helpfully pointed out, was "being heckled from all sides."

For anyone - read everyone by the look of it - who had stayed up all night to watch Barack Obama defeat Mitt Romney in the US presidential elections, the Harman-Clegg showdown could hardly be mistaken for a political battle with the world's future at stake.

Then something strange happened. Nick Clegg's future took a turn for the better. Much better. It turned out he didn't need the notes at all, as he confidently free-styled his way around the Government's policy promises with just his memory for support. And even if he didn't quite address Harriet Harman's pick-'n'-mix approach to questioning, he did at least deliver the stock Government soundbites with a forceful flourish. Why should the Lib Dems be trusted on promises over policing, following their pledge-breaking on tuition fees, Harman asked.

"At least you can trust this side of the House on the economy," Clegg growled back, suggesting that some broken promises are better than others. "What have they done? They've gone to a few marches, but they have not apologised for the mess we are in. They haven't filled in their blank sheet."

Tory MPs cheered loudly. Then glanced nervously at their neighbour to see if they had too. George Osborne nodded along, a grin sneaking across his features. It was official. Nick Clegg was calmly in control. By now David Cameron would have turned a violent crimson, his anger betraying him once again. The only thing betraying the Liberal Demorat leader was his ravaged throat, but the Tories seemed to be titillated by his husky tones. One, Oliver Colvile, even fluttered his eyelashes and asked a decidedly Lib-Dem friendly question about renewable energy.

Mark Reckless, Tory rebel commander, tried to restore the natural order by asking Mr Clegg if he was helping to choose Britain's next EU Commissioner. "I won't be the candidate however much the honorable gentleman would like me to be", Clegg replied, promoting a sigh of relief came from the most unlikely of sources.

Peter Bone, usually so preoccupied with a morbid fascination with what would happened if David Cameron were to be run over tomorrow, actually stood up to praise the power of the Coalition.

Clegg looked genuinely surprised. "Let us savour and treasure this moment", the Liberal Democrat leader declared, and he wasn't the only one to depart the chamber with a smile on his face. Rows of Tories skipped off confidently too. It hardly been an Obamian victory speech, but Nick Clegg had made the Coalition partners feel better about themselves than they had for months. Perhaps Mr Cameron should make more of an effort to return next time.

PMQs review: Clegg's assault on Labour cheers the Tories - George Eaton in the New Statesman

The Deputy PM shouted himself hoarse as he defended the coalition's economic record.

So forceful was Nick Clegg's defence of the government at today's PMQs that, by the end of the session, his voice had been reduced to an IDS-like croak. Deputising for David Cameron, who doesn't return from the Gulf until later today, Clegg launched attack after attack on Labour. Asked by Harriet Harman, who stood in for Ed Miliband, why the Lib Dems had broken their election pledge to increase police numbers, Clegg thundered, "at least they can trust this side of the House with the economy!" When Harman replied that the public couldn't trust his party on tuition fees, on childcare or on the police, Clegg, his voice rising with anger, exclaimed, "What about her promise of no more boom and bust? What happened to that one?" He added that while the government had reduced the deficit by a quarter and reformed welfare, Labour had merely "gone on a few marches", "denied any responsibility" for the deficit, and failed to fill in its "blank sheet of paper". Sat next to Clegg on the frontbench, George Osborne smiled with pleasure at the Deputy PM's performance. Given the ferocity of his attacks on Labour, it's becoming ever harder to see how Clegg could work with Miliband in the event of a hung parliament.

Earlier in the session, Harman had questioned Clegg on the Leveson inquiry in an attempt to drive a wedge between him and Cameron. While Clegg emphasised his commitment to "a free, raucous, independent press", he added that "business as usual" was not acceptable. Provided that Leveson's recommendations were "workable and proportionate", Clegg said he would support them, a stance that leaves the door open to some form of statutory regulation.

A notable moment came when Tory MP Mark Reckless mischievously asked the Deputy PM whether he would be involved in choosing Britain's next EU commissioner (it is often suggested that Clegg could resign as Lib Dem leader to take up the post when it falls vacant in 2013), to which Clegg, refusing to play dumb, replied: "I won't be a candidate, however much he may hope otherwise". It was, as far as I can recall, the first time that he had explicitly ruled himself out of the running.

Both Clegg and Harman also took the opportunity to congratulate Barack Obama on his re-election. After Clegg had done so, to cheers from Labour MPs, he presciently observed, "I suspect that's the only point I will be cheered by the benches opposite." Harman offered a spirited endorsement of Obama, noting that the US President had pledged to "create more jobs", "provide healthcare for all" and tackle "the scourge of inequality". Her message, in short, was "just like Labour!"

Liberal Democrat Voice

"He was so assured, confident and natural and spoke completely without notes. He even answered the question he was given and not the one he wanted to answer, too. He made David Cameron look like a complete amateur, to be honest, and Gordon Brown, too."

Clegg harman at PMQ

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