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By Peter Hoskin
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Our
Parliamentarians are back in town — and, boy, don’t we know it. There have been
two rather cranky, yet noteworthy, Q&A sessions in the Commons today.

The
first featured Michael Gove, and can be watched in its entirety here. The
Education Secretary repeated the main points from his Today Programme interview
this morning: that he will not intervene in the GCSE marking row as it is a
matter for the exams regulator Ofqual, and that he and the government will soon
announce their GCSE reform plans, presumably designed to make the exams more
rigorous.

The
second came after Nick Clegg’s statement about Lords reform, in which the
Deputy Prime Minister confirmed — as if confirmation were needed — that the
Coalition’s plans for the second chamber are no more. Some Tory MPs cheered as
Mr Clegg grumbled through his lines, seemingly delighted at his discomfort. “’I can confirm that the Government has
today withdrawn that Bill,” he said, “about which I am not as happy as members
behind me are.”

But
there was anger, as well as merriment, from the Tory benches — for, after his
original statement, Mr Clegg reaffirmed his intention to vote down the boundary
changes, claiming once again that they were wrapped up in the same policy
package as Lords reform. “Nothing will change my mind,” he added for emphasis,
even though there remains
speculation
that something eventually might.

It
was around this point that Eleanor Laing cited Mr Clegg’s previous words on the
matter:

“The Deputy Prime Minister has confirmed
that on 6 August, he said that, the House of Lords Reform Bill having been
withdrawn, his party would no longer support the boundaries legislation. Does
he recall that on 19 April, in answer to my questions, he told the Select
Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform that there was ‘no link’
between the two issues? Does he accept that he cannot have been telling the
truth on both occasions?”

Soon after, Jacob Rees Mogg asked a question that
began in tongue-in-cheek but ended with a rasp:

“May I commend the Deputy Prime Minister on his
remarkable statesmanship with regard to the boundary changes? He will be
pleased to know that the commission was proposing a North East Somerset that
would have been a safe Lib Dem seat, so I am in with a sporting chance of being
back after the next election. However, now that he has said that Lib Dem
Ministers will vote against Government policy, I wonder what his definition of
collective responsibility is within a coalition Government.”

And, before them both, Bernard Jenkin had implied
that Mr Clegg’s actions were a “disgrace”:

“My right hon. Friend should comfort himself: he
gave it his best shot, with all his sincerity, and we respect him for that. May
I draw his attention to the fact that the Parliamentary Voting System and
Constituencies Act 2011 remains in force? Therefore, the boundary commissions
remain under a duty to make proposals on a House of 600 Members. Does he have
the power to instruct them to stop? No, he does not. Is he therefore not simply
going to obstruct a constitutional process for his own party political
advantage, which is a disgrace?”

What was particularly striking, apart from these
Tory attacks, was the ferocity of the Deputy Prime Minister’s attacks against
Labour. At one point he described them as “miserable little party point-scoring
politicians,” which will do nothing to invalidate the idea that he could
never take his party into Coalition with Miliband & Co. (or, more accurately
perhaps, his party could never take him into Coalition with Miliband &
Co.).

So, first day back for Nick Clegg, and he already
seems to be antagonising MPs on all sides. He’s really only safe in the Cabinet
Office now.

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