Harriet. She tenaciously continued to chip away at Clegg over the issue of higher education and fees, attempting to get him to justify the Liberal Democrats’ decision to undertake a complete U-turn on the subject since the formation of the coalition. Clegg had no defence for the turncoat behaviour of himself and his party, and the entire house knew it. It was a fractious mood in the chamber today, with Labour MPs buoyed up no doubt by the presence of thousands of students and marchers taking to the streets of London to demonstrate against the government’s plans to increase fees to £9,000 a year.
As Harriet went on the attack over fees, Clegg wheeled out the oft-quoted lines about the new scheme being ‘progressive’ and ‘fair’. Harriet retorted with a question on how much the government was slashing the higher education grant, which went unanswered. She then stated: ‘fees increases aren’t about the deficit … but are a Tory plan to shove costs onto students and parents’.
Tom Greatrex landed an excellent blow when he announced to the house that Danny Alexander is pictured on a leaflet in Scotland campaigning to save the forests, whilst planning to sell off the national forests in England. Greatrex went for the jugular with this question and Nick Clegg was left with nowhere to turn, except to try and defend Alexander with a childlike pronunciation that ‘people are always mean to Danny’.
Surprisingly, a tough question came also from the government benches on PCSOs, with Tory Andrew Stephenson asking for a committment from the government to protect them, which again was avoided by Clegg as he claimed that the coalition were seeking to get more police out on the streets.
Overall today’s debate was dominated overwhelmingly by the issue of fees and higher education. No fewer than 10 questions were asked on the subject, and the most Nick Clegg could muster was a defence about the ‘financial situation’. This won’t be a PMQs Clegg looks back on with relish, as he answered Meg Munn’s question on the polling day voting fiasco in Sheffield with ‘what do we do about it’; had no convincing answer to Chi Onwurah’s point about AgustaWestland and Forgemasters and was chided by speaker John Bercow at one point for turning his back on the house. Not Mr Clegg’s finest hour.
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One of the most memorable lines of PMQs this afternoon had to be Harriet likening Nick Clegg’s relationship with David Cameron to experiences of students in freshers’ week ‘you meet up with a dodgy bloke and end up doing things you regret’, which caused predictable hilarity among the Labour benches and made the Lib Dems look increasingly uncomfortable.
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