Clegg-baiting: A cruel bloodsport

Nick Clegg would do everything in his power to stop his children going into politics, he told an interviewer this week, since it's such a beastly business and you need the skin of a tank to survive.

And, really, who could blame him? He's been spat at in the street, he revealed, and had dog excrement put through his letterbox. And on top of all that, every few weeks he has to subject himself in the Commons to deputy prime minister's questions.

It is the principal duty of ministers, of course, to endure the gleeful yah-boos of the nation's finest minds without resorting to physical violence or unparliamentary language, and as such it was just another day in the office for a member of her majesty's government. And yet there is something about Clegg-baiting – which sounds like a now outlawed sport once practised by the bigger boys at some of England's pricier schools, and probably was – that excites particular sympathy.

Perhaps it's the resigned set of his shoulders as another parliamentary opponent rises to have their little joke. Perhaps it's the determined good cheer of the handful of yellow-clad Lib Dems to his right, urging him on with encouraging smiles to talk some more about their party's many triumphs. Either way, is it any wonder that when Clegg gets home, he cranks easy listening favourite Magic FM (another Radio Times exclusive) up to 11? There are some pains only the Lighthouse Family can ease.

Tuesday's first questions were about electoral registration, and also about kicking Clegg. "In the Sheffield city region, students are particularly keen to vote at the next general election," noted Labour's John Mann. Clegg's constituency is in Sheffield; students don't like Clegg. "What specific assistance [is] the government giving to colleges … to ensure they can play their role in maximising the number of students who are able to vote?"

The Speaker turned to a question about how to improve the functioning of the coalition. Sir Edward Leigh had a helpful suggestion from the Tory benches: "In a spirit of fraternity with my right honourable friend, would not the best way of improving our electoral chances … be to end the coalition now and to let the Conservatives govern on our own?"

Diana Johnson, Labour member for Hull, wanted to talk about Clegg's pledge to offer free school meals to under-sevens, and the fact that many may have to eat cold sandwiches in September. "Haven't we seen enough of these half-baked promises from the Lib Dems?" Her colleagues roared. "Half-baked!"

Dennis Skinner, however, was becoming frustrated. Why was no one shouting yet? Or as he put it: "When is this coalition going to start breaking up?" There was going to be a protest march against austerity on Thursday, bellowed Skinner, his face as red as his tie, and "Students will be on the march!" Clegg could join them and "promise them the moon"! A few feet away, Harriet Harman lowered her head, but couldn't quite stop her shoulders shaking.

Clegg took a deep breath and congratulated Skinner on his "outpouring of bile". The government, he insisted, "will see the course through to the end of this parliament".

After that, though – who knows? The Radio Times had one suggestion for the DPM, if he finds himself with time on his hands. Had he considered a Richard and Judy-style chat show, hosted with his wife? Clegg said he would have to run that one by Miriam.

Powered by article was written by Esther Addley, for The Guardian on Tuesday 8th July 2014 23.23 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010