Isabel Hardman

Nick Clegg’s PMQs challenge

Nick Clegg's PMQs challenge
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Nick Clegg is taking Prime Minister’s Questions today, which will at least force the Lib Dem leader to turn up to a major Commons session, rather than bunking off to Cornwall. It’s not just good timing in terms of sorting out Clegg’s truancy rate, but also because Coalition ministers have been taking public pot shots at one another for the past week. Labour will want to exploit those divisions, but Clegg is unlikely to find many Tory backbenchers rallying to his cause, either. The behaviour of the Lib Dems has reminded a lot of Conservatives of their desire to sack the Lib Dems from the Coalition - a desire they still haven’t worked out how to fulfil and that won’t be fulfilled either.

While all the op-eds and interviews have at least given us something to write about during this rather dull final session of Parliament before the General Election (all the action yesterday was in the Lords, where the Coalition suffered its 100th defeat, this time on judicial review), they haven’t really taught us anything we didn’t know or expect about the tail end of this government. We knew the parties would make sure their differences became more pronounced as the election approached, and we knew that in order to stop the government becoming truly dysfunctional, these disagreements would be very well orchestrated, though Number 10 has this week been sidestepping questions about whether the Prime Minister has had advanced sight of pieces attacking his party, such as that from Danny Alexander on Monday, or indeed whether Nick Clegg knew what George Osborne would say about his party the day before. Whether or not a Coalition counterpart signed off either of these interventions, each side would have known what the other was going to say - these ‘fights’ didn’t involve any minister revealing the details of confidential Quad discussions, for instance.

But as Clegg prepares for his session today, he must know that he can’t just talk about how much he disapproves of the Tories. He does still need to give the impression that the Coalition is working, and that coalitions are a good thing. His pitch that the Lib Dems can make any government better is complex enough one for voters, without the added confusion of public whingeing.