With all eyes on Brodie Clark’s appearance before the home affairs select committee this lunchtime (which we’ll have a report on later), and the focus this afternoon on the fuel prices debate (which we’ll report on tomorrow), Nick Clegg’s appearance at Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons earlier today will have passed many by.
During the session, the Lib Dem leader was grilled on topics ranging from voter registration reforms and party funding to child detention (which we’ll report on tonight) and youth unemployment, escaping relatively unscathed though not without suffering a few hits on the way – most notably over voter registration and 16-24 year old unemployment, which is set to top one million tomorrow.
To Clegg in a minute, but the most biting question of the session, expressing the fears of many over the coalition’s voter registration changes was directed to constitutional reform minister Mark Harper, who was asked by Kevin Brennan (Labour, Cardiff West):
“Individual voter registration is only worth pursuing if it not only makes the register more accurate but also makes it more complete.
“I warned him about this over a year ago, doesn’t he realise that by combining it with their voter suppression policy, like not requiring people to collaborate with the electoral register, he’s basically participating in the Florida-isation of the UK electoral register.”
To which he replied:
“We are just as focused on completeness as accuracy, and as the deputy prime minister set out we are listening very carefully to the responses to both our consultation and the things that have been said by the political and constitutional reform committee and will bring forward our proposals in due course.”
Watch the exchange, and keep an ear out for the shouts of “Alabama, Alabama” after Brennan asks his question:
Clegg himself was quizzed numerous times about the changes - which the independent Electoral Commission warned could “deny millions the vote”, that more than ten million people “could fall off the register” - including by Philip Hollobone (Conservative, Kettering), who asked:
“In a strong and thriving community, shouldn’t it be a civic duty for everybody to be obliged to register to vote, whether or not they actually do vote, but at least they should have a duty to register?”
We will have more on the missing millions from the Electoral Reform Society later today.
On youth unemployment, meanwhile, Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman asked of him:
“Will he admit that he needs to take urgent further action to help the young unemployed?”
“When rising unemployment makes it harder to pay down the deficit, why has he cut work programmes by a third, and why is he closing job centres?”
“We expect it from the Tories, ‘young unemployment is a price worth paying’, but how on Earth can the Liberal Democrats be prepared to go along with it.”
Watch the exchange, including Clegg’s replies:
We will have detailed analysis and reaction to the youth unemployment figures when they are released tomorrow.
On party funding, shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan asked:
“Is he concerned about the objections from the chairman of the Conservative party to the £10,000 cap proposed by the [committee on standards in public life] draft report, and is he worried that we could have a similar situation to 2007 where the Conservatives walked away from the chance of a cross-party agreement.”
A question Clegg didn’t even attempt to answer; instead, he just talked about trade unions, saying:
“I wonder if that question was written by the GMB.”
Finally, Dennis Skinner (Labour, Bolsover) asked of the deputy prime minister:
“Will he do the decent thing, as leader of the Lib Dems, and instruct them to surrender their ill-gotten gains of more than two million quid from that jailbird Michael Brown.”
In his response, Clegg claimed:
“The Liberal Democrat party was entirely within its rights and it was entirely reasonable to accept the money at the time.”
And then, once again, brought up the issue of trade unions funding Labour – having been asked by Skinner about felons funding the Lib Dems.
Fraudsters or trade unionists: Who would you rather be funded by…
• The devastating crisis hitting Britain’s young people – Rory Weal, November 9th 2011
• The coalition is failing to tackle youth unemployment – Ruwan Subasinghe, October 26th 2011
• The coalition are conspiring to lock the left out of the electoral process – Tony Burke, October 23rd 2011
• Harman: Lib Dems “colluding” with Tories to deny millions the vote – Shamik Das, September 29th 2011
• Clegg attacks Labour/union link – but keeps schtum on Tory/City links – Shamik Das, September 21st 2011