Nick Clegg Faces MPs At DPMQs But Four MPs With Questions Can't Be Bothered
It's the last day the Commons will sit this year, and what better way to round things off than Deputy Prime Minister's Questions, the first since Nick Clegg threw his toys out of the pram over Cameron's EU veto?
You'd think it would be quite the draw, but the chamber was sparsely populated. Perhaps a lot of MPs have bunked off early given there's no actual legislation to debate (and hasn't been for several weeks). To affected gasps of horror and the clear indignation of the Speaker, no fewer than four MPs who'd tabled questions for Clegg failed to turn up to ask them. Was this naughty, co-ordinated snub by backbenchers? Perhaps only Father Christmas knows the answer.
The inevitable questions over Cameron's veto produced the predictable jeers. Clegg said he supported the Prime Minister on "a range of issues," which drew festive laughter since it's clear Clegg doesn't support the PM on at least two issues - Europe and a marriage tax break - whatsoever.
The Lib Dem MPs had packed into their corner of the coalition benches and looked suitably snug, but the usual horde of Labour backbenchers lining up to grill Nick Clegg was conspicuous by its absence.
Many of the questions to Clegg centred around what the correct definition of a lobbyist should be. Clegg has promised legislation to clamp down on lobbyists, something brought into sharp relief by the Adam Werritty affair. But some MPs worry that clamping down on the lobbying industry could hurt charities, who do a lot of lobbying, and even individual constituents, who are well within their rights to harass their local MP about whatever they want.
The government hasn't made up its mind yet about what constitutes a lobbyist, but a consultation is coming soon, apparently.
The best question of the session came from Tory MP and perennial thorn the side of ministers, Peter Bone. He asked Clegg: "If the Prime Minister was killed in a terrorist attack, would it be the Deputy Prime Minister who took over, and can he confirm it wouldn't be him because his party now has less support than UKIP?"
Clegg replied that David Cameron's death would be "an unfortunate event," but accused Peter Bone of having a morbid fascination with the subject. The deputy PM was less coherent on the subject of a married couples tax break, saying there was an explicit agreement to disagree. He then said" "I dont believe...em...I believe..em... the state should be cautious in using the tax system on private matters."
At least Clegg didn't have too many other problems from Tory backbenchers, who roundly cheered him when he made all the usual claims that the coalition was clearing up the mess made by Labour. Mind you, very few Tory MPs could be bothered to ask Nick Clegg questions at all.