Peter Hoskin

PMQs live blog | 8 September 2010

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Stay tuned for live coverage of Clegg vs Straw from 1200.

1201: And here we go. Clegg begins by passing on his best wishes to David Cameron and his family. Condolences for the fallen in Afghanistan follow - "we will never forget their sacrifices."

1204: Mark Pritchard begins with a dubiously plant-like question. "300 policemen have been laid off in West Mercia," he observes - is the fiscal mess left by the last government to blame? It tees Clegg up to tear into Labour's legacy. A combative start.

1206: Jack Straw steps up to the dispatch box. He begins with condolences for our troops, and then adds some warm regards for Cameron and his family. The first question, though, changes the tone: is Clegg satisfied that Andy Coulson wasn't aware of phone hacking at the NotW.

1208: Clegg handles the question well, saying that Andy Coulson has already "taken responsibility" for what happened uder his editorship. He adds that it is a matter for the police to decide whether matters should go further.

Smart, smart stuff from Clegg. He has a newspaper quote from when Coulson resigned, to the effect that Gordon Brown was the first to call Coulson and offer his commiserations. "You'll go on to do a great job somewhere," said Brown. Much mirth on the coalition benches.

1210: Clegg is far less on the defensive than you might expect. He says that the previous investigation was conducted under a Labour government - so they're to blame if it was inadequate.

1211: Woah, look at him go. Now Clegg's reeling off all the reasons why he shouldn't take lessons from Labour: the "dodgy dossier," McBride, etc.

1213: Straw is pushing the same line of questioning: is it realistic to think that Coulson didn't know about phone hacking. Clegg remains surefooted.

1214: And Clegg rounds if off by asking whether, with a "war in Afghanistan and a flood in Pakistan," Labour should have their collective mind on other issues than Coulson.

1215: A question from John Redwood gives Clegg the opportunity to quote one Tony Blair on the deficit and public finances. The coalition are delighted with the postscript to his memoir - and I expect they'll mention its prescriptions time and again.

1217: Groans from the Labour benches as Clegg once again brings up "the legacy we've inherited," in response to a question abour spending. In response, he stresses that the British public "needs to know" that we have one of the worst deficits in the developed world.

1219: Clegg outlines an independent inquiry in the Mull of Kintyre accident.

1221: Clegg declines to say that the Catholic Church should apologise for the actions of Father James Chesney. 

Labour's Joan Walley asks whether Clegg has any qualms about cuts to JobCentre Plus workforces. Clegg is unabashed in response: he asks her whether she has any qualms that the Labour government planned £44bn of cuts but didn't tell the British public. Fiesty stuff.

1225: Ian Davidson quips that today is his Birthday - and that he'd like a couple of British, not French, aircraft carriers by way of a present. Clegg responds that "I'd like to give him a gift, but it may not be of the shape and size he's requested."

Nic Dakin tells the story of one of his constituents whose "Big Society neighbourhood group" will lose money because of the coalition's cuts. Clegg falls back on the ol' legacy argument again.

Quizzed about today's Sheffield Forgemasters developements, Clegg is blunt: the money wasn't there for the £80 million loan that the Labour government promised the company.

Clegg fears that the "worst may be to come" in the flooded regions of Pakistan, as "water-borne deseases take hold".

1232: On the AV referendum, Clegg says: "the stability of the coalition is not dependent on the result of one vote." He adds that the overall politcal reform package is more expansive than that.

1233: And that's it. My verdict shortly.

VERDICT: The summer break has clearly done Nick Clegg some good. Here he was, back to the form he displayed in the TV debates: combative, surefooted and effervescent. One might have expected Jack Straw's questions about Andy Coulson to cause some discomfort, but, really, they failed to connect at all. Indeed, with that well-chosen Gordon Brown quote, and a plea for more serious questions about Afghanistan or Pakistan, Clegg even managed to tread the moral high ground. The rest of the session followed a pattern which will become familiar to observers, if it isn't already: innuendo about cuts set against attacks on Labour's legacy. As his answer to Joan Walley demonstrated (see 1223 above), Clegg got stuck into that battle with some relish. An encouraging performance.