Monday, November 19, 2012

Nick Clegg tells us what it was like preparing for PMQs

It's just dawned on me that I never got round to posting Nick Clegg's second Letter from the Leader, which gave an insight into what it was like preparing for PMQs. This was a a performance which was lauded by the press at the time.

I love this kind of behind the scenes stuff. Although I'm kind of disappointed that he didn't let us in on the secret of who played Harriet Harman during the rehearsals.....

Dear Caron,

I want to start writing to you, as a supporter of the Liberal Democrats, regularly and more informally than I have in the past. I want to give you a bit more of an insight into what’s going on behind those Whitehall doors and how we, as Lib Dems, are dealing with the issues and challenges that come up.

Last week I wrote a message to Lib Dem members about childcare, and it had the immediate distinction of being mentioned at Prime Ministers Questions - with the PM abroad I was standing in on Wednesday and Harriet Harman quoted my words about the crippling cost of childcare back at me.

While I have a regular Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions session in Parliament the preparation required for PMQs is a bit greater. This is because Harriet Harman gets six questions not two; there is more time on topical issues than at DPMQs; and, of course more people are watching.

Luckily you get some help in preparing for the bear pit. Downing Street provides a briefing team who bring huge experience, patient good humour, encyclopaedic knowledge of every policy and a depressingly large number of briefing documents to be read and memorised.

PMQs prep team

They are joined by my team, including my PPS Duncan Hames, as we predict questions, come up with jokes and so on. It can be a time consuming process, and it’s easy to see why Tony Blair felt it made sense to shift the two sessions a week Prime Minister’s used to have to face into one, longer, appearance.

The event itself is intense, but fun. I know people watching on TV go cold at the sight of MPs shouting, but it’s only when you visit parliament and see it in full cry that you appreciate the noise made as MPs attempt to make their point. What looks like aggressive shouting on TV is often a genuine attempt to simply be heard.

You can watch my appearance here, but for me a few moments stood out.The first was my exchange with Harriet Harman over the Leveson Report. We don't yet know what Lord Justice Leveson will say, but to me it's blindingly obvious that if he recommends something workable and proportionate we must seek to implement it.

Of course whatever he says will provoke controversy. And there's a difficult balance to strike to make sure that ordinary people are treated fairly by the media while our press remains free, raucous and independent. But I believe we can strike that balance and get agreement across the political parties.

We need to be able to look the parents of Milly Dowler in the eye, and other victims who have had their privacy trampled on, and assure them that in the future there will be a permanently independent system of recourse, sanction and accountability able to act when things go wrong.

Secondly I took the opportunity to once again remind people of our major achievement in cutting income tax for ordinary people. By April next year 24 million people will have received a £550 tax cut thanks to us - we must make sure everyone in Britain knows about this great Liberal Democrat policy.

To find out more about it and what you can do to get our message across go here.A number of you got in touch about last week’s email with many positive comments. Some had suggestions about childcare, others wrote about what they wanted me to cover in future messages. If there’s something you want me to talk about do get in touch here.

Best wishes,


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