“This is not a snub. I thought it would be a nice change to get out of the Westminster bubble”: Clegg on his Autumn Statement absence

by Stephen Tall on December 4, 2014

clegg on levesonNick Clegg has taken my advice.*

Back in July, I offered the Lib Dem leader five unsolicited pieces of advice. Most he’s ridden roughshod over: Vince Cable wasn’t appointed the party’s shadow chancellor for the next election, Jo Swinson wasn’t promoted to the cabinet, and (as far as I know) Nick continues to rule out options other than a full coalition in the event of a hung parliament.

But item number 4 was this:

4. Stop going to PMQs, start touring the country

Focus groups, I’m told, show the public is baffled why Nick Clegg simply sits next to David Cameron without ever speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions. To them, he appears mute, powerless, sidelined. Nick himself is scathing of this weekly parliamentary pantomime: “It is just so stuck in the nineteenth century and it is so stuck in this adversarial, yah-boo culture. It is going to have to change at some point.” He can’t change it now, but what he can do is steer clear of it. The time spent attending PMQs could be much better used. Nick’s aides are, according to the Daily Mail, advising him to ditch his Spanish family holiday volunteer “for a ‘summer of pain’ doing ordinary jobs outside Westminster”, modelled on Paddy Ashdown’s 1993 ‘Beyond Westminster’ tour of Britain. Ignore half that, Nick: you and your family need your holiday. But getting out of Westminster every Wednesday at 12 noon seems like a sound idea.

And, lo and behold, Nick has started skipping Prime Minister’s Questions in the last few weeks. Then yesterday he was absent from the Autumn Statement, deciding instead to travel to Cornwall. As he told journalists:

“This is not a snub. I’ve spent four years dutifully sitting there on the green benches and this year I thought it would be a nice change to get out of the Westminster bubble and say what this Autumn Statement means to people, their families and businesses.”

A much better use of his time.

* Maybe. More likely, he and his advisers had decided to do this anyway. But humour me.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.