Herald sketch for Prime Minister's Questions
WANT to know why the LibDems are languishing at 16% in the polls, four points lower that when Nick Clegg became leader? The answer lies in the question, which is something Mr Clegg doesn’t seem capable of framing.
It is tough being leader of a minority party, and making an impact at Prime Minister’s Questions is not easy. But with the two big boys slugging it out on the economy there was yesterday what tacticians call “an opportunity”.
The government is deeply embarrassed over allegations that four Labour peers were willing to pocket cash for amendments. It has brought “sleaze” to Mr Brown’s doorstep. So, naturally, Mr Clegg got up in parliament and attacked the Tories.
When it came to his turn Mr Clegg asked the Prime Minister if it was right that peers “in the Upper House can use their status as nondomiciled, non-residents to get out of paying their full taxes here in this country?”
Eh? Political watchers guessed it was a reference to the Tory peers and funders, Lords Ashcroft and Laidlaw, but not many other people would. For Mr Brown the answer was as easy as the embarrassment was deep for Mr Clegg. “Yes, of course it’s not right,” concurred the Prime Minister as Clegg’s shot at goal went way wide.
Sitting next to him, Chris Huhne, who could have been leader instead of Clegg but for 511 votes, stared straight ahead, knowing he must display no reaction.
Others did though. My goodness, Charles Kennedy, like the ghost of Tom Joad behind the Serjeant at Arms, was trying to catch the Speaker’s eye after that. I bet he didn’t want to ask why Question Time is in Fort William this week without him on the panel.
But who would pin the Prime Minister down on the brewing scandal in the Lords? A Tory tried but he bounced off the baying praetorian guard led by Dennis Skinner.
Then SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson, a tie the length of a Lossiemouth runway and his hair combed like an Aberlour distillery man on the way to church, rose to his feet.
“In 1997 the Prime Minister said he relished the prospect of abolishing the unaccountable and unelected members of the House of Lords,” thundered Angus of the Glens, as if he had been watching Braveheart (again).
“Why is it after 12 years of a Labour government we still have an unelected chamber, double standards on financial disclosure and no way of removing peers who break the law?”
In a nutshell he laid the problem at the feet of the Prime Minister, who expressed indignation and hid behind the ermine reforms trailed by the Lords leader in another place earlier in the day.
The Commons cheered Mr Robertson and Clegg twisted on his seat to see the reaction on the face of his nemesis. Mr Huhne stared straight ahead, inscrutable. Angus of the Glens looked pleased with himself though, as minority party leaders are when they do their job properly.