Jack Straw

Kiran Stacey

Nick Clegg and Jack Straw

Nick Clegg and Jack Straw

This blog tries not to resort to negative cynicism about politics and our politicians: other media outlets do a sterling job of that. But watching the historic moment when a Liberal Democrat stood at the despatch box for the first time ever at PMQs, I couldn’t help feel that the history of the moment was drowned by farcically long-winded questions, non-answers and puerile interruptions. (Although I don’t want to sound too po-faced, if you ignore the substantive politics, it was very good fun.)

The mood in the Commons was especially rowdy, even for a normal PMQs. With the Lib Dems sinking in the polls Labour sniffed a chance to give Nick Clegg a kicking while both Tories and the Lib Dems sensed the need to give their man their full backing. All this led to a bubbling cauldron of noise, with John Bercow, the speaker, telling MPs off even before questions began.

And by the time it came to the main event, Jack Straw versus Nick Clegg, the House was at boiling point. Read more

Kiran Stacey

David Lloyd George, the last Liberal to face questions to a prime minister

David Lloyd George, the last Liberal to face questions to a prime minister

This afternoon Nick Clegg will become the first Liberal to face questions to a prime minister since Lloyd George in 1922, and the first ever Liberal Democrat to face prime minister’s questions as they were formalised in 1961.

After his successful performances on the television debates during the campaign, you might think this would be a pushover for Clegg. But PMQs is a strange beast, where prime ministers (or their deputies) can suddenly be blindsided by an unexpected question or have to face the mocking laughter of a packed House after an unconvincing answer. Read more

Jim Pickard

Carne Ross, a former British official to the UN*, offered his controversial testimony to the Chilcot inquiry today – and it makes uncomfortable reading for the government of the time.

In his written evidence, Ross said he believed the government had “intentionally and substantially exaggerated” its assessment of Iraq’s capabilities ahead of the 2003 invasion. For example, he revives the point that Iraq was officially thought to have “up to 12” Scud missles – which became “up to 20” in the September dossier.

Ross also highlights flaws in a paper sent to the Parliamentary Labour Party by then foreign secretary Jack Straw to drum up support from MPs. Read more

Jim Pickard

The last time the three parties sat down in an “adult” fashion to discuss party funding – and how to reform it – the talks broke down in an acrimonious fashion. The Hayden Phillips review ran into the sand in late 2007 (although he believes he was inches away from an agreement).

Tomorrow (Thursday) the can of worms will be reopened by the the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which is interviewing witnesses including Sir Hayden, Jack Straw, Francis Maude and David Heath. The sessions start at 9.30am at Church House in Dean’s Yard.

Reform of party funding is in the coalition agreement (page 21).

Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, is keen to end the passive way in which millions of pounds are delivered from the unions to Labour via their political funds. In particular the Tories are unhappy – and have been for years – with the fact that members have to “opt out” of the funds rather than “opt in”. That, they argue, is unfair given that many union members are Tory supporters.

The coalition is not prepared to risk acting unilaterally, however. It knows that hitting Labour’s coffers without a wider package of reforms to party funding would leave it open to charges of being partisan. Instead the Tories and Lib Dems will attend the inevitably slow multi-party talks with Labour and others that will follow the committee’s eventual report. Read more