photo credit: Liberal Democrats
Cross-posted from Liberal Democrat Voice
We are told that Nick Clegg acts as “Flashman’s fag”. The system also means that the Deputy Prime Minister has his own gofer. His name is Mark Harper. So when the speaker calls “Questions for the Deputy Prime Minister” we have the surreal spectacle of Mr. Harper answering the first two questions. Being a good liberal though, Nick Clegg doesn’t seem to have got the hang of the fagging system and Mr. Harper ends up taking the easy questions, at least in the case of the first one today. It was from a Tory, Gavin Barwell pointing out the discrepancies in representation between the Wirral (4 MPs for 239,000 voters) and his own Croydon (3 MPs for 243,000 voters).
Will smaller constituencies lead to chaotic boundaries? – was the next question from Labour’s Graham Stringer, who raised the prospect of Sheffield Hallam constituency including Glossop in Derbyshire, for example. There will be +/- 5% room for manoevre on size to allow for avoiding irregularities, said the minister, rather than the 50% variation which happens at the moment.
Then, at last, we actually got the Deputy Prime Minister. He’d had three Shredded Wheat for breakfast so he took on three questions from three MPs all at once. All were on the subject of the recall of MPs. When will it happen?
I’ll let you into a secret. It may be me. Perhaps I am turning a bit too blasé, but virtually every Nick Clegg answer boils down to “Mañana”. That’s unfair, because when you’re the first Liberal DPM for 80 years there’s a lot of work to catch up on. To be fair, he has just delivered the AV referendum, through a rather grueling parliamentary process. But it will be a relief when he can announce more concrete changes, and less “We are currently considering….we will make a statement soon setting out our plans…..”etc etc – which was his answer to the recall questions.
“Will the government define ‘serious wrongdoing’ (the trigger for a recall)? asked Nadhim Zahawi (Con). Then we did get a bit of insight into the government’s thinking on this. It’s likely that any prison sentence would trigger a recall, rather than the 12 month sentence rule for disqualification which exists currently. 10% of voters would also have to sign a recall petition. (Which could be costly, Chris Skidmore(Con) suggested).
Then after all that preamble we were off. The Clegg baiting began. Roberta Blackman-Woods (Lab) asked whether the DPM “still believes that MPs should be recalled for breaking their promises—and if he does, how many Liberal Democrat MPs does he expect would be subject to that system?”. Wisely Nick Clegg did not rise to that bait.
The baiter-in-chief then waded in. Chris Bryant (Lab). Didn’t the LibDem manifesto refer to recalls for MPs who had “broken the rules”? (“…give people the power to sack their MP if the MP is not following the rules about how to do their job” was what it said)– he asked, adding that perhaps the voters would think that if MPs promised “3,000 more police officers and then cut 10,000, or promised not to raise VAT and then put it up by 2.5%” they would have broken the rules.
Again, a dead bat from the Cleggster. On questioning from Sir Peter Tapsell (Con) he said that there would need to be “checks and balances” to ensure no infringement of the “freedom of Members on both sides of the House to speak out and articulate our views”.
Lords reform was the next subject. A draft bill will be published “shortly”. Clegg said his preference for a fully elected second chamber “is clear” but that “given the fact that the reform of the other place has been stalled for about 150 years, there is always a danger of making the best the enemy of the good.” So, expect compromise, in other words.
We then had the real Tory party roaring via Peter Bone: “The Deputy Prime Minister said that it had taken 150 years to get to this stage. May I urge him to take another 150 years before we have to vote?” Marvellous!
Sadiq Khan (Lab) harried the DPM on the timing of the Lords reform bill which was promised by December 2010 in the coalition agreement, he said. “Mañana”, said Clegg. [Indeed, the coalition agreement says: “The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010”]
Kelvin Hopkins berated Clegg for skiing in the Alps last week. But, spare a thought for Nick Clegg. He had to abandon his holiday after just less than two days to help deal with the Middle East crisis ramifications.
Harriet Harman then wafted onto the floor and repeated the apparent Labour theme of the day – Police numbers. “Broken promises” therein, which pitched us into full-blown into “unholy mess left by the last government” etc etc territory.
Then came the Labour whip’s darling, Luciana Berger. Would she prove that she has a mind of her own for once? Ah no. It was policing again.”There’s no money left” said Clegg, quoting the last Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
In response to Jo Swinson (LibDem), Clegg said that the pilot of a public reading stage in the Protection of Freedoms Bill will have to be reviewed before decisions are made on how or whether to proceed with this innovation.
Oh dear. There was a second Labour theme for the day. Last week. “The first Deputy Prime Minister in British history to fail to turn up for work when the Prime Minister has gone abroad for a week! I think what I want to ask is, “What is the point of Nick Clegg?” “ asked John Mann in a classic example of an MP thinking with his bottom.