Clegg forced to defend Coulson

Lib Dem Deputy PM surprisingly bullish. But there is a catch.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, was forced to defend the continuing presence in government of David Cameron's controversial communications chief, Andy Coulson, today after he was drafted in to answer for the government at PMQs after Cameron went to be with his father who is ill.

Questioned by Jack Straw, the shadow justice secretary, the ever-more-enthusiastic Clegg repeatedly said the phone tapping saga at the News of the World was a matter for the police and not the government. He brushed aside a reference to the Environment Secretary, Chris Huhne, who said before the coalition was formed that "a future prime minister cannot have someone who is involved in these sort of underhand tactics". And in a surprisingly bullish flourish, he said he would not "take lessons" from the party -- Labour -- of Damian McBride.

All good debating tactics. But there is a catch: McBride (rightly) resigned.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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5 things Labour has blamed for the Copeland by-election defeat

Other than Labour, of course. 

In the early hours of Friday morning, Labour activists in Copeland received a crushing blow, when they lost a long-held constituency to the Tories

As the news sank in, everyone from the leadership down began sharing their views on what went wrong. 

Some Labour MPs who had done the door knock rounds acknowledged voters felt the party was divided, and were confused about its leadership.

But others had more imaginative reasons for defeat:

1. Tony Blair

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told Radio 4’s Today programme that: “I don’t think it’s about individuals”. But he then laid into Tony Blair, saying: “We can’t have a circumstance again where a week before the by-election a former leader of the party attacks the party itself.”

2. Marginal seats

In a flurry of tweets, shadow Justice secretary Richard Burgon wanted everyone to know that Copeland was a marginal seat and always had been since it was created in 1983.

Which might be true, but most commentators were rather more struck by the fact Labour MPs had managed to overcome that marginality and represent the area for eighty years. 

3. The nuclear industry

In response to the defeat, Corbyn loyalist Paul Flynn tweeted: “Copeland MP is pro-nuclear right winger. No change there.” He added that Copeland was a “unique pro-nuclear seat”. 

In fact, when The New Statesman visited Copeland, we found residents far more concerned about the jobs the nuclear industry provides than any evangelical fervour for splitting atoms.

4. The political establishment

Addressing journalists the day after the defeat, Corbyn said voters were “let down by the political establishment”. So let down, they voted for the party of government.

He also blamed the “corporate controlled media”. 

5. Brexit

Corbyn's erstwhile rival Owen Smith tweeted that the defeat was "more evidence of the electoral foolhardiness of Labour chasing Brexiteers down the rabbit hole". It's certainly the case that Brexit hasn't been kind to Labour's share of the vote in Remain-voting by-elections like Richmond. But more than 56 per cent of Cumbrians voted Leave, and in Copeland the percentage was the highest, at 62 per cent. That's an awful lot of Brexiteers not to chase...

I'm a mole, innit.