David Blackburn

PMQs Liveblog | 21 July 2010

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Stay tuned for coverage of Clegg's first PMQs from 12:00.

12:02: He's off, the first Liberal to answer Prime Minister's Questions since the '20s. He lists the dead from Afghanistan.

A tricky one on cuts in the capital schools budget from the MP for Gateshead. Clegg is clear: we should be under no illusion, Labour would have had to cut.

12:03: Tory MP David Borroughes asks if Gary McKinnon will spared extradiction? Clegg replies that Cameron and Obama have discussed the matter and hope to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

12:05: Jack Straw opens up for Labour, the noise is building. Straw asks: is the 2014 pullout unconditional? After a little badinage about Straw's longevity and the Liberals' period in the wilderness, Clegg says no, it is conditional.

12:05: Straw thanks Clegg for his generosity, but remarks that this will likely be his one and only appearance. Straw is wily and raises the Sheffield Forgemasters loan. Clegg and Cameron, Straw alleges, did not refuse the loan on the basis of the company's declining equity, despite what they told the Commons. Will they apologise?

12:10: Clegg asserts that the loan was declined on the basis of shareholding. And that cuts are necessary. Lord Mandelson was simply writing cheques he knew would bounce, which is a good line

12:12: Straw replies that this is not very transparent, and says that the government can find £500m for marriage tax breaks but not for a loan.

There's a good point in there somewhere but Straw's rambling like a drunk on his uppers, and it's very difficult to follow. I'm not sure how Clegg can understand it.

12:15: Clegg sidesteps the question by referring to Lord Mandelson's memoirs and the quote about 'we're borrowing money we don't have and everyone knows this.' He's talking exclusively about the previous government's policy, which is not strictly speaking an answer but then again he wasn't asked a question.

12:17: Straw bellows on about the Forgemasters and how the Liberals have reneged on their pledges. There's lots of noise and very little sense of direction.

12:18: Clegg responds again with the cuts are necessary line, but they have been made fair: people have been lifted out of income tax for instance. 'More progress in 12 weeks than the last government managed in 13 years.'

12:20: Oh dear. It's so turgid that Bercow has cut Straw off a question too soon. Straw rises and makes the same point verbosely yet again. Clegg responds by mentioning the illegal Iraq war. It's a surreal nightmare of a PMQ, as if it had been scripted by Terry Gilliam. Come back Hattie, all is forgiven.

12:25: Labour have missed a trick so far, and Clegg is getting a relatively easy ride. But the leader of Plaid reminds the House of Clegg's Guardian piece: I'm a revolutionary, but I'm also a pragmatist. Was Clegg a revolutionary pragmatist, or a pragmatic revolutionary when he raised VAT.

Clegg reverts to the slight air of sanctimony he adopted in opposition: no one took such a decision lightly, but did we know that the budget deficit was £12bn more than they said, did we know etc etc. It's an effective if slightly sick-making technique.

12:30: A question from Julian Huppert the Lib Dem MP on child detention, which grew under Labour. Clegg gets well and truly stuck-in to Labour's illiberalism and the outrage that 1,000 children were imprisoned last year. This government stands against inhumanity and authoritarianism.

VERDICT: Jack Straw said that this will probably be his one and only outing at PMQs. It certainly should be: Straw was abysmal, worse than Brown, worse even than Prescott. I'm beginning to understand how Gordon Brown survived, the rest of the party are hopeless. Straw rambled on and on without direction. It was impossible to follow and I feel disorientated having watched it. The cream of the jest was when Bercow cut Straw off a question early.

Clegg is not in Cameron's league, but he did remarkably well. He remained composed despite the raucousness of the bear-pit. However, he didn't answer questions directly and relied too heavily on trashing the previous government's record, which will only take him so far with Bercow on duty and a very hostile opposition. A wily and effective cross-examiner could expose Clegg's weakness. However, I'm not sure that Labour has one.