VERDICT: Earlier today, I wrote that the coalition "has
few better defenders of its cause than Nick Clegg". You wouldn’t have guessed it from this PMQs performance. Harman had him on the back foot over tuition fees from the off, and he struggled to
give concise, clear answers in return. A pity, because Clegg is right when he says that the coalition has a better policy than Labour’s messy graduate tax – yet there was too much waffle, and
too little directness, from him today. The deputy Prime Minister was better when he blazed with anger over Labour’s hypocrisy. But, on the whole, this was a bout to cheer the Labour benches.
1233: And that’s it. My verdict shortly.
1232: Clegg says that the pupil premium does away with an uneven system under Labour, whereby a poor child in one area might get extra funding, but not in another area.
1232: More on tuition fees. If I heard it right, Clegg says that a quarter of graduates will pay less than they do currently.
1231: Good response to a Labour backbencher from Clegg. The question comes: "Apart from giving paedophiles, rapists and murderers the vote, what other pre-election promises has the
Deputy Prime Minister kept?" Clegg returns: "I’m not sure whether that was a question, or a line he’s rehearsed over and over again over the past few days."
1230: Clegg says that we need to have both a "political and military" solution in Afghanistan. Can’t be military alone.
1228: Clegg sounds like Cameron as he swipes at Labour: "They don’t like to hear [about the state of the public finances], but they have to. It’s the truth."
1227: In repsonse to a question from Tim Farron, Clegg says that "we’ve got to support the insitutions which provide brilliant teachers".
1224: Clegg’s getting angry with the persistent questions over tuition fees – and he’s better for it. He attacks Labour’s Emily Thornberry for being "pious" over the
issue when Labour have U-turned over fees on several occasions. "Make your mind up," he stabs at the end.
1222: A plant-like question tees up Clegg to say that SureStart will be focused at those who need it most.
1220: Clegg: "We looked exhaustively at a graduate tax … and decided that it was much less fair."
1218: More on tuition fees: why won’t Clegg meet with the student demonstrators? He responds, again, that Labour don’t have a plan, adding that he meets with student leaders
"all the time".
1216: Strange mix of both clear and stumbling reponses from Clegg. On Sheffield Forgemasters, he slams Labour for the state of the public finances. On a probing question on cuts to
police community support officers (from a Tory MP), Clegg wavers.
1214: A Labour backbencher asks why Danny Alexander is pictured campaigning against forestry cuts in Scotland, but is implementing them in England. Clegg starts, "The poor
chief secretary seems to get picked on…". He adds: "There should be no discrimination against rodents or ginger-headed folk."
1213: The deputy PM expresses anger over the situation in Burma, and calls for "real democracy" in that country.
1212: Clegg shoehorns in a reference to the Labour "mutiny" over Phil Woolas. He probably expected to make more of this today.
1212: Now here’s one of the coalition’s favourite lines: "We’ve got a plan, you haven’t".
1211: Clegg’s trying to explain why the coalition’s decision on tuition fees is both fair and sufficient to the fiscal crisis. His points are a bit stifled, though.
1210: Harman quips that Clegg has been "taking lessons from the Prime Minister on how not answer the question." This is a caricature of Cameron that Labour are keen to paint each
1210: Clegg’s finding his feet now. He rattles off a list of Labour’s U-turns on tuition fees. The coalition benches cheer each point.
1208: A stand-up act from Harman: "We all know what it’s like, you’re at freshers week and you do things with some dodgy bloke that you regret later." The Labour benches
are enjoying this, but it doesn’t make up for their insufficient policy in this area.
1207: Harman keep pressing. If fees of £7,000 were "disastrous," how about fees of £9,000? she asks. Clegg gives a similar response to the first time round.
1205: Clegg sounds unusually uncertain in responsive. He says that concessions have to be made to the public finances, and claims that the new set-up is "progressive".
The Lib Dem leader is already on the back foot.
1204: Snide first question from Harman. She points out that the Lib Dems pledged not to increase tuition fees – "can he update us on his progress on this measure?" The
Labour benches burst into laughter.
1202: And here’s Clegg now, leading off with condolences for fallen troops. He also extends his "warmest congratulations" to Ed Miliband on the birth of his son. First
question on contaminated blood supplies given to haemophiliacs. Clegg responds
1158: Live footage here, by the way.
Stay tuned for live coverage of today’s Clegg vs Harman bout from 1200.