Lloyd Evans

We are not amused

We are not amused
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Let’s face it. This wasn’t a classic. Today’s PMQs featured a duel of the deputies. Nick Clegg, who leads part of the government, faced Jack Straw who’s so far from leading anything that he isn’t even a candidate in the race to head his currently driverless party. Unfortunately, Mr Straw had left all his good questions at home. He had to improvise at the last moment. Andy Coulson was all he could think of. He asked if Nick Clegg ‘was entirely satisfied’ that Coulson knew nothing about phone-tapping while he was editor of the News of the World. The only thing Nick Clegg is entirely satisfied with is himself and he fended off Straw’s feeble attacks by saying, effectively, ‘oh we’ve phoned the police so just shut up.’ He also revealed that when Coulson resigned over the allegations, ‘the first person to commiserate with him was Gordon Brown. He told him he’d done the honourable thing, and said knew he would go on to do a worthwhile job.’


This was fun. Everyone cheered up and hoped Straw might move to new ground and try causing Clegg some difficulties. But no. Coulson was all Straw could think of. Clegg kept assuring him that Plod was on the case and when he grew tired of using the same answer again and again, he decided to dip into the personal supply of moral rectitude which he keeps with him at all times. Taking a sip of that heady elixir he produced the following homily. ‘I’m not going to take any lessons from a party that spent all its time in office leaking against each other.’ He then reeled off a list of Labour spin-crimes beginning with the dodgy dossier and ending with Damian McBride.


Clegg enjoys this sort of stuff. He likes to be angry. He likes to identify sources of shame and sin. He gets a big kick out of shouting. Today he drove himself to the brink of heart failure over the Equitable Life pensionsers who’d been ‘betrayed,’ and ‘shamefully overlooked’ by the previous government. Even his sense of humour is burdened with virtue. ‘I am amused,’ he said when challenged over the Coalition’s decision to spend £100m on the AV referendum. He was asked the same question straight afterwards by another angry backbencher. ‘I am amused,’ he repeated.

His only serious rival for the prize of top nincompoop is Mr Bercow who practises his emphatic manner every morning in the mirror while brushing his teeth. Today he used the session to show us how he plans to run PMQs in future. There are no rules. He just makes it up as he goes along. Previously, Bercow has halted any minister who failed to address government policy directly. Today, Nick Clegg broke this stricture and began to quote the twittered memoirs of the last prime minister-but-one (his name escapes me for the moment). The musings of a retired Labour grandee can hardly be classed as coalition policy but when Mr Bercow jumped up to interrupt he merely asked members to be quiet so that he could hear the excerpt properly. ‘I haven’t read the book yet,’ he told us. Good for Mr Bercow. Irrelevances are always welcome at PMQs and especially so today. Somehow they seemed to suit the intellectual temper of the house.