PMQs as-it-happened

Ian Dunt By

11:38 - Change of plan. It's Nick Clegg vs Harriet Harman today, because David Cameron is in Israel and Ed Miliband is banging on about the EU down the road. Our correspondent, Adam Bienkov, is running from that speech to the Commons Chamber now, propelled by the force of NEWS, which is like wind but stronger. Kick off is at midday. I'll be live blogging throughout with the usual caveats: There will be typos and factual inaccuracies. Afterwards, I will clear these up with spell check and a dab of Googling. Live blog typos are like photos of young Trotsky having a laugh with Stalin: It never happened.

11:57 - Francis Maude seems half awake, which is considerably more energetic than usual. He alludes to wittiness, but falls rather short.

11:59 - The Chamber is very empty, even given that it's stand-in day. Danny Alexander sits to Maude's left, approximating happiness. Andy Burnham looks like a sixth former between classes - bored and resentful. This tediousness will end soon, to be replaced by another kind.

12:01 - Dominic Raab, Tory, tall, is being very manly . It prevented me listening to what he was saying, I was so overcome. The Chamber is a little more full now. MPs talk over Yasmon Quereshi (Lab, woolly jumpers). Maude brushes her off. David Davies, Tory, looks like a sentient wooden plank, launches into a weak attack on Labour while flinging his arms around, like some deranged traffic conductor.

12:03 - And we're off. Clegg's up. Behind him, George Osborne settles in.

12:04 - The depressing traditional mixture of dead British servicemen and sporting triumphs dominate Clegg's opening statement.

12:05 - Sir Alan Beith, Lib Dem, like a game show host from the Victorian era, says coalition government can deliver sound policy. Sigh. Clegg "strongly agrees". He uses the chance to back his much-maligned free school meals programme. "Instead of denigrating that policy we should be celebrating it," he says. Mixed reactions from the benches behind him. Harman is up.

12:07 - She says last local election Clegg promised local people more control over their health services. But yesterday he voted against that (this is Jeremy Hunt and the care bill, which allows him to close hospitals). Clegg says Labour engaged in "covert privatisation" of the NHS. "They don't have much to stand on," he says. Harman: "He isn't even prepared to justify what he voted on last night. Hunt broke the law. The Lib Dems could have stepped in and stopped it. First they said they were against the change, then they put down their amendment, then they sold out to the Tories. Is there any principle to the way they vote apart from self-interest?" Very strong from Harman.

12:09 - At their spring conference Lib Dems were "falling over themselves" to attack government policy, but they support it, she says. Harman then moves on to the bedroom tax. Are they for it or against it? Clegg: "There are 1.7 million people on the housing waiting list and 1.5 million spare bedrooms. That's a problem we inherited from them." They're for it then.

12:11 - They're for it," Harman shouts. Iain Duncan Smith is chuckling to himself. Harman moves onto the top rate of income tax. Clegg goes full panto. "What was it under Labour. Anybody? Anybody?"

12:12 - The DPM is extremely animated today, like a very boring puppet in some sickening beach resort. Bercow interrupts to get control of the Chamber. Harman says long term youth unemployment has doubled under his government. It's "an absolute disgrace they voted through a tax cut for the richest". Now she mentions his spring conference speech. Apparently Clegg loves tea, the Shipping Forecast and flip flops. "Not so much footwear but a way of life. With his broken promises and posturing doesn't he realise he might like Britain but it doesn't love him back?" Flat delivery from Harman. "Long time in delivery, " Clegg says, "and the punchline wasn't worth waiting for." Harman actually nods at that.

12:14 - Clegg getting very angry actually, he's in red-faced-Cameron territory. "They used to talk about coming together in the national interest," Harman says, ""Now they're lashed together out of fear of the electorate." Clegg attacks Labour record on relative poverty, youth unemployment and the deficit. "We're clearing up the mess she left behind." An old line, it wins barely a murmur in the Commons Chamber.

12:16 - Snap Verdict: Clegg: 2 Harman: 2. It started well for the Labour deputy leader, but she let a couple of jokes go flat (she usually does with pre-written lines) and tailored off towards the end, even if her central message will be readily accepted by the public. Clegg was far too angry. He is even worse when irate than the prime minister. 

12:19 - There was a short tribute to Bob Crow from Clegg by the way - triggered by an MPs' question. George Osborne didn't nod.

12:20 - John Whittingdale (Tory, chair of media committee) wants targeted economic sanctions against Russia to prevent an annexation of Crimea. Clegg says he speaks for everyone when he says we should "seek to do everything" to deter and deescalate. He wants us to work together with the EU and America to set out a "ratchet of sanctions". His tone does not give one confidence.

12:21 - Kevin Brennan (Lab, pretentions) says Clegg can be summarised by paraphrasing Elvis' line "you ain't nothing but a lapdog". It's a joke about the Elvis party beating the Lib Dems in a local election. Clegg again looks angry as he shouts back that at least they weren't the party in the lap of the bankers.

12:23 - Clegg admits that losing to the Bus Pass Elvis party last week was a "novel  experience for us". Then he lays into Labour, again, with an enthusiasm which makes a Lib-Lab coalition look very far away.

12:25 - Andrew Selous (Tory, remarkably shaped face) asks a serious question about North Korea and British attempts to engage with the regime there, not least by facilitating the World Service into the country. Clegg says they can't continue to offer a Korean language service, but that's an issue for the BBC itself.

12:27 - David Davies, again, looks on the verge of tears when he celebrates the "services delivered by this coalition government to NHS patients". It's all very emotional today. The trouble for Clegg in these occasions is that the equidistance strategy is in tatters. He is a Tory right now - on any objective measure.  It's not really his fault. His own thoughts are more circumspect. But in the bear pit of the Commons, facing strong opposition, he reverts to defence.

12:31 - Meg Hillier (Lab) aims for the bedroom tax again, trying to make Clegg defend it once more, highlighting distinctions between him and his party. It doesn't work. As the spring conference made clear, he retains their support. Penny Mordaunt (Tory,diving) wants protections for football clubs from big money. Clegg says it's being looked at.

12:33 - Caroline Noakes (Tory, fond of ponchos) wants schools to have defibrillators. She makes a very good case, namely that it saves childrens' lives. Not hard to agree on that one really. Clegg gives a cut-and-paste answer about "raising this important issue".

12:35 - Clegg again references "Labour-run Wales". And again it makes him sound like a Tory. And we're done. Thank Christ for that. I have barely any spiritual reassurance left. Oh wait. It's gone. Well that was faintly boring and unappetising. So just another week at PMQs basically. The take home message, I think, is just how comfortable Clegg still appears wearing Tory clothes and making Tory arguments. It's been this way for some time, but this was his most glaring moment since the LibDems really started pursuing a differentiation strategy. He's got a long way to go before anyone could really see his party as sitting between Labour and the Tories. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next week.

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