Crash-bang-wallop. The chances of a Lib-Lab pact in 2015 have just gone hurtling through the floor.
David Cameron is away in Beijing looking for Chinese venture capitalists who can turn Britain into the new Africa. Nick Clegg took his place at PMQs. He lost no time socking it to Labour.
They were intellectually bankrupt, he said, and economically illiterate. Their energy policy was a con. And union stooges were swamping their membership lists. Harriet Harman hit back. ‘Leave it to us to worry about our party members,’ she said, ‘especially as so many of them used to be his.’ She dismissed Clegg’s favourite idea that he acts as a brake on Conservative policy. ‘He’s the accelerator,’ she gloated. A Tory prime minister, she went on, couldn’t hope for more loyal deputy. Tribal hatred simmered in her eye.
Clegg rejected her claim that the Tories’ worst policies had LibDem support.
‘Without the LibDems,’ he declared, ‘there’d be no recovery.’
The hooting and honking that greeted this land-grab went on for about a minute. The Labour party were laughing with derision, the Tories with incredulity, the LibDems with sheer relief. At last, they’d got the credit they deserve.
The ugly Lib-Lab spat continued. Clegg said Labour hadn’t a single credible policy. He blamed them for destroying the economy after ‘a prawn cocktail offensive, sucking up to the banks, which caused the problems in the first place.’ Far from being government in waiting, they weren’t even an opposition in waiting. Harman accused Clegg of ‘breaking any promise and selling out any principle,’ to cosy up to Cameron. It’s hard to recall a more bitter and personal bust-up between the former playmates. It was like a horror-scene from a divorce court.
As if to cement Clegg’s status as their doting minion, Tory backbenchers took it in turns to canvass his support for their ideas.
Aidan Burley suggested that the benefit cap should shrink by about ten grand. Clegg reckoned it was fine at its current level. David Nuttall snuffled rather vaguely about quitting the EU. Clegg replied that it was the largest single market in the world, (true), and that three million British jobs depend on our continuing membership, (false).
Shabob Mahmood tried to score an equaliser. She declared that Labour had ‘pushed the government’ into taking action on business rates.
‘The only thing Labour pushed us into doing,’ said Clegg testily, ‘was dragging the economy back from the brink.’
Peter Bone stood up with mischief on his mind. He was wearing a blue waistcoat, quite openly, in the House. Waistcoats have become the signature garment of the pantomime buffoon. They’re also favoured by hangers and floggers who dream of a right-wing coup led by retired brigadiers from a club in Pall Mall. Not that Peter Bone belongs in that category. Not yet, anyway.
He began with a spot of facetious congratulation. ‘He’s done very well indeed today.’
Radio listeners, he said, would assume that the man answering the questions was not Nick Clegg but David Cameron himself.
‘I think he’s turning into a Tory,’ said Bone. Some believe the transformation took place ages ago.
Clegg had good fun on the train-set today. And it was a great occasion for those who want the Coalition to persist. But the outlook has suddenly darkened for the left-wing of Clegg’s party. And that’s most of them.Tags: Harriet Harman, Nick Clegg, PMQs