At the recent Spectator Awards Nick Clegg joked that he rivalled Lord Mandelson as the figure most hated by Labour MPs and activists. Deputy PMQs – held again yesterday – is always interesting to watch. Perhaps because so many Labour MPs feel betrayed by a party they saw as their natural ally, they launch much more anger towards the Deputy Prime Minister than they do towards David Cameron. Clegg gives back as good as he gets, however. He also appears philosophically very distant from Labour (see his last answer below). I can easily see a LibLab pact after the next General Election but it's harder to envisage a CleggLab pact.
The cold text doesn't quite capture the emotional anger of it all but pasted below are Mr Clegg's critiques of Labour attacks yesterday – some volunteered to Tory MPs.
"In Europe and elsewhere the idea of two parties compromising with each other in the national interest is considered to be a good thing. Only backward-looking Opposition Members regard every compromise as a betrayal."
To Harriet Harman… "For weeks now Opposition Members have refused to tell the House, or the students demonstrating outside, what their policy is. Is it a blank sheet of paper?"
To Chris Bryant… "The hon. Gentleman always gets terrifically excitable, but none the less asks a question that is wholly irrelevant to the subject we are dealing with. That was absolutely nothing to do with House of Lords reform. I think-he was trying to be so clever that it is difficult to tell-he was referring to the coalition agreement and what it says about higher education policy, which is very clear."
To John Mann… "This must be the same integrity that led the Labour party to introduce fees having said that it would not in 1997 and to introduce top-up fees when it said that it would not in its 2001 manifesto. Labour commissioned the Browne review, which Labour Members are now busily trashing. The facts are- [ Interruption. ] I know that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and his colleagues do not want to hear the facts of our policy, but the facts are that our proposal will remove any up-front fees whatsoever, including for the 40% of part-time students at our universities. The fact is that all graduates will pay less per month than they do under the scheme we inherited from Labour. The fact is that at least one in four of the lowest paid graduates will pay less in total than they do now. That is a progressive package; Labour's was not."
To John Robertson… "I know that Opposition Members do not want to hear this because they do not want to talk about policy as they have a blank sheet for policy. We have a plan and they have a blank sheet-that speaks volumes."
About Ed Miliband… "I heard the hon. Gentleman's leader on the radio the other day saying that he was tempted to speak to the students. When asked why he did not, he said that he had something in his diary-it must have been staring at a blank sheet, which takes an enormous amount of time, does it not?"
On the Big Society… "I can tell the House what it is above and beyond everything else. It is a contrast with the big state. That was the governing ethos of the previous Government: every problem, every dilemma and every question, it was felt by the previous Government, should be sorted out by officials in Whitehall and politicians in Westminster… We believe in empowering individuals, communities and families to be able to do what they think is right to improve their lives in the way they think is best."