PMQs Verdict: Harman rattles Clegg’s chains

"It's good to see the deputy prime minister back in his place," commented Harriet Harman at PMQs today, one week after Nick Clegg took the remarkable decision to avoid the autumn statement.

Pale-faced, weary-eyed and standing in front of a wall of Tory MPs, Nick Clegg at times resembled a battered hostage wheeled out in front of the cameras.

Although there were no obvious physical signs of detainment, the DPM was flanked on one side by George Osborne and on the other by Michael Gove. He may have escaped the autumn statement, but there was no way he was getting out of this one alive.

"I spent one day in Cornwall. Members opposite have spent five years in cloud cuckoo land," he roared to the entirely unhelpful cheers of Tory MPs behind him.

With his former nemesis Gove nodding enthusiastically along, he battled on against Harman's repeated questions about the coalition's record on women. This was an obvious line of questioning from Labour's deputy leader. Women are seriously unrepresented in the Lib Dems and the session came just one day after she announced she would be leading Labour's campaign to win over women voters at the general election.

With this in mind you might have expected Clegg to be well prepared. He wasn't. Instead he claimed that Harman's line of questions was "breathtaking" before rattling through an occasionally relevant list of coalition achievements. Again the Tories cheered him on.

This was not a good day for the deputy prime minister. At one point he resorted to a truly impenetrable gag comparing the Labour party to Lance Armstrong. What was he trying to suggest here? That the Labour front bench are all secretly doped up to their eyeballs? That Labour are serial winners but also serial cheaters? I'm not sure even Clegg knew the answer to this.

By the end of Harman's questioning,he appeared to have submitted himself to full Stockholm syndrome and began physically egging-on the Tory MPs behind him.

"Under Labour unemployment was HIGHER" he shouted as he waved for them to chant along.

"Female unemployment was HIGHER". Michael Gove and a handful of others joined in.

"Youth unemployment was HIGHER". But Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone sitting stone-faced beside him did not. 

"Pensioner poverty was HIGHER". Even Michael Gove was getting tired now.

By the end of the session, Clegg appeared even more shackled than when he first began.

"He talks the talk but he walks through the lobby with the Tories," replied Harman.

This was all she needed to say. For once Clegg and the Tories sat behind him had done all of her work for her.