Thursday, 22 July 2010

Clegg's Clangers

Can anyone tolerate Nick Clegg anymore? How did he fool so many? Watching him this week as he covered PMQ's for David Cameron was an uncomfortable experience. Granted, Jack Straw did go on a bit and his questions were rather long winded but Clegg's performance was arrogant, waffling and evasive; he attempted humour with a couple of gags about Straw's age but this did nothing to enhance his first appearance at PMQ's. He gave the impression of someone who was a little over excited to be there, and couldn't resist the opportunity to attack the previous government, even though the vast majority of his points were so irrelevant that the speaker had to put him back on course. Straw's six questions focused on Afghanistan and the Sheffield Forgemasters loan.
On Afghanistan Clegg clarified the coalition decision that UK forces in Afghanistan will be withdrawn from combat by 2015. This is after General Sir Mike Jackson said he was “wary” about setting down dates before Afghan troops were ready to take over the job of securing their country.  Given the unpredictable and fragile situation in Afghanistan, it does seem ill advised to set anything in stone and one can't help wondering if this is a box to be ticked prior to the next scheduled General Election in 2015, cynical but I can picture it now....celebrations and elation as the last troops arrive home from what will surely be by 2015 the bloodiest war in a generation, followed weeks later by polling day.

Clegg did not take the opportunity to be so clear on the continuing issue of Sheffield Forgemasters following the the challenge to his reasoning for cancelling the loan. Clegg had told the house that the loan was cancelled because the company's directors were unwilling to dilute their shareholding in the firm; however in a letter leaked since Clegg actually acknowledges that the directors were willing to do this. The issue was raised as a point of order on Tuesday in the House and the Speaker, John Bercow, advised that these issues should be dealt with in front of MP's. However, Clegg failed to use the opportunity to make an apology or even admit his error- instead he followed in his boss's footsteps when there is a tough question to be answered, and simply reminded us about the deficit; and then claimed that this was the reason for cancelling the loan. This issue is one that Labour will not let go of; it is especially sensitive for Clegg given it affects those in his constituency, Sheffield Hallam. His approach to the issue was rather disinterested; at no point did he acknowledge that this was a blow to the organisation or that this was a loan, rather than a grant. There is of course no chance of a U turn on this issue, but it is certainly one that has captured Labour's imagination and for that reason it won't go away....
Number 10 was then forced to make a statement that Clegg was voicing his own opinion when he described the Iraq War as illegal, a fair point but a bizarre choice of statement during PMQ's when you have a bunch of Tories behind you, all but 15 of which voted for the war! And was that George Osborne nodding along as Nick made this gaffe? Says it all really...
So all in all a bad PMQ's for the coalition and for Clegg in what could of been his opportunity to shine. The Labour Party were always going to go on the attack, but he really didn't help himself either.


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