(D)PMQs: Snap, Crackle and Clegg
The Deputy Prime Minster destroyed his Labour opponent whilst stepping in for an absent Prime Minister, but the praise could not last forever writes Harry Cole
After bleary eyes from a long night watching how politics should be done, Westminster watchers tuned in for the weekly bout between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
Except there was not one. Cameron is too busy selling arms to the Saudis to grace Parliament with his presence this week so the responsibility to avoid questions fell to the deputies.
Clegg vs. Harman, from the greatest show on earth to two dish cloths gently fondling each. Two of the most loathed politicians in the country attempting to tear strips off each other.
Harman came armed with some terrible jokes that she immediately fluffed and some sinister threats about forcing the government to implement whatever crazy plan Lord Justice Leveson concludes his report with.
Nick Clegg came without notes. He normally looks like someone has pissed on his chips during his derision-filled outings at the despatch box, but he put in a surprisingly combative performance today.
When he stood up to congratulate Obama, he prematurely declared, "I expect that will be the only cheer I get today". How wrong he was.
What happened next was truly baffling to loyal subscribers to the political narrative that Clegg is a dead man walking or better yet, is a miserable, mad Mrs Rochester trapped in the Downing Street attic, frothing at his Tory captors and plotting how to burn down his prison.
Whisper it quietly - Clegg was on fantastic form and savaged Harman. To quote the genius of Armando Iannucci, it was “like watching a lion rape a sheep, but in a good way”
"Why should anyone trust you with policing?" whined Harman "At least they can trust us with the economy” hit back Clegg.
And then he was away, articulately musing on the past and the future and reminding the world few people who tune in quite why it would have been suicide for the Liberal Democrats to have gone into coalition with the Labour Party:
"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.”
Where Cameron has been prone to getting angry recently, Clegg kept his cool and looked like he was genuinely enjoying himself. What was most embarrassing for the erstwhile Prime Minister is that Clegg even had the Tory benches eating out of the palm of his hand by the end of his stint.
If the cheers and order paper waving was not enough, luckily the Tory troops took to Twitter to confirm their newfound love for the yellow peril within: “Don't know what the Deputy Prime Minister had for breakfast but it led to a trouncing of Labour's Deputy Leader," said one.
“Clegg relentless on Labour's mess so far. He's doing well” added another. And finally, “Nick Clegg on fire at DPMQs - strong stuff”. Strong stuff indeed - all round.
But panic not, the cold light of day was not far away. It fell to the increasingly influential Eurosceptic Tory backbencher Mark Reckless to bring Clegg’s big day crashing down: “Does the DPM expect to be involved in the selection of the UK’s next EU commissioner?”
Clegg took the loaded jibe about his future career in Westminster in the post-coalition days rather well, confirming that “I won’t be the candidate however much the honorable gentleman would like me to be”, but the house erupted with laughter and pointing from all sides at Clegg.
And thus order was restored to the universe.
Harry Cole is the UK Political Editor for The Commentator
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