DPMQs used to be good fun, but with some added time, topical questions and the presence of Nick Clegg it’s now officially a bloodsport.
By Ian Dunt
This, it should be remembered, is Labour on good behaviour. When Clegg first started conducting these baby PMQs, as one of my colleagues so disparagingly calls it, they simply couldn’t contain themselves. It was like the two minute hate in 1984. I remember one female Labour MP screaming from her seat, the veins on the side of her neck popping out, every time he spoke.
Nowadays, you can sometimes hear what deputy prime minister says, which has never been a useful tool in sympathising with him. The Labour front bench treat him like some damaged boy they can circle round and beat on. Chris Bryant, Sadiq Khan and Harriet Harman were like jeering schoolkids, drunk on Mars bars and scorn.
Bryant, who won a judicial review against the Met for the way they handled his phone-hacking case yesterday, started with House of Lords reform. Clegg’s reform agenda actually featured in Labour’s manifesto, which caused the former minister something of a problem. He had to opposing it, you see, because it came from Clegg’s mouth. A bit of mental dexterity later, he had found his attack.
“The thing we find most bizarre is that this is a priority for the government,” Bryant insisted, with mock sincerity.
Clegg replied: “Everytime he asks a question I find it more and more baffling why anyone should want to hack his phone.” Bryant sat down again, rather more sheepishly. He’d do well to remember the viciousness of the encircled.
Khan came next. I know they’re letting the youth parliament use the Chamber now, but this is ridiculous. The it was Harman’s turn. You could almost see Khan whisper: ‘Go on Harry, give him a kick. Everyone’s doing it.’
Harman wanted Clegg to repeat the arguments he makes about cooperation in the NHS in public, rather than behind closed doors to the parliamentary party. He didn’t, rather predictably. Labour’s John Cryer picked up the thread, leading Clegg to suggest that “if he and his colleagues were more honest, they would actually back our attempt to listen to the British people”. You’re not allowed to accuse an MP of lying in the Chamber of course, and Labour instantly started barking like some mad dog. Bercow saw the comment for what it was and brushed past it.
Then questions, or rather spite, was opened to the floor. How does Clegg feel at being “less popular than the Swedish entry at the Eurovision Song Contest”? “Well read,” he replied, dryly. “Which principle will he betray next?”
And on it went. Just another day in the life of Nick Clegg. I honestly don’t know how he gets through it.