Political sketch: The missing Clegg

"Most despised man in Britain" award: an annual gong handed out to the Deputy PM on a weekly basis.

It must have been his turn to pick the kids up from school that kept Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg away from the Commons for the first public discussion of the plan to lift the anchors on the UK and move it in the general direction of the Azores.

Why else would he miss out on the humiliation that was to be poured on his head for facing both ways within 24-hours over the decision of his boss and former partner to give Europe the finger on Friday over its reorganisation plans.

Ever since the heady days of the Rose Garden, the Nick and Dave Show has been at the heart of British politics. They were regulars at all major events and a guaranteed double act in the House of Commons for all matters of importance.

But yesterday, Nick went missing.

He had been spotted leaving home earlier in the day and is believed to have made his way to his place of employment, but come 3.30pm we had the unsettling sight of seeing Dave entering the Chamber on his own and sitting Nick-less in his regular place.

Despite being just back from lunch, the absence of the Deputy PM was quickly seized on by his many enemies on both sides of the House jointly sad at the realisation that the planned drawing and quartering would have to be put off until another day -- assuming, of course, that Nick has not fled the country.

Nick has never been popular since the election; being despised by Tory MPs for stealing their jobs and their cars, and by Labour MPs for exactly the same reasons. He wasn't even that popular with his own members for deciding to take the Tory shilling and set up home with Dave.

But even all that did not prepare the House for his non-appearance as Dave was about to be held to account for saying "non" to everyone from Calais to Koblenz. Of course, it did not help Nick's case that he had been onside with the PM on Saturday saying he had to choice but to get his veto out.

As the rest of his party took a totally opposite and increasingly angry view, and Vince Cable made his usual threat to resign, Nick then proceeded to fall off his ass sometime on Saturday night picking up a quick Pauline conversion that Dave had actually been a bounder and beastly to his foreign pals.

It was against this background that the Lib Dem leader came in for what Fleet Street's Ghengis Khan wing would call "robust criticism" this morning, stopping just short of printing his home address but using plenty of photographs to go with the "Most despised man in Britain" award: an annual gong handed out on a weekly basis.

So in came Dave to yet another first. He has been many thing since he was elected but popular was not one of them, which must explain the look of nervous confusion on his face as his own side cheered him -- and this time almost meant it. Buoyed by party acclaim not to mention more than half the nation according to morning opinion polls, he basked in the rare acclaim which come to a politician who says he did what he said he would -- even though he usually denies it later.

Nick may have been absent but whether by political design or self-protection, just down the bench from the PM sat the other seniors from the Lib-Dem slice of the Coalition cake, Messrs Cable and Huhne placed neatly next to Ken Clarke, the only Tory member of the Cabinet to suggest Dave might be a little bit wrong.

Earlier we had heard reports that Speaker Bercow had put the Commons rozzers on stand-by, fearing post-prandial emotion might spill over into unparliamentary conduct but without Nick it seemed as if the Commons could not be bothered.

To be fair Ed Miliband did have a go, both index fingers out of their holsters, in a pretty polished performance of anger but even he must have seen the opinion polls. Dave did have one killer question which Ed wisely ignored: would he have signed the deal that Dave had vetoed?

As nasty Nadine Norries accused Nick of being a coward, Dave just smiled. He knew where he was but he wasn't saying.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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You may call me a monster – but I'm glad that girl's lemonade stall got shut down

What's wrong with hard-working public servants enforcing perfectly sensible regulations?

Who could fail to be moved by the widely shared tears of a five year old whose innocent lemonade stall was brutally shut down by evil bureaucrats? What sort of monster would not have their heartstrings tugged by the plaintive “I've done a bad thing” from a girl whose father tells us she “just wanted to put a smile on people's faces”?

Well me, actually.

There are half a million cases of food poisoning each year in the UK, and one of the reasons we have stringent controls on who can sell food and drink, especially in unsealed containers, is to try to cut those figures down. And street stalls in general are regulated because we have a system of taxation, rights and responsibilities in this country which underpins our functioning society. Regulation is a social and economic good.

It’s also pretty unfair to criticise the hard-working public servants who acted in this case for doing the job they are no doubt underpaid to do. For the council to say “we expect our enforcement officers to show common sense” as they cancelled the fine is all very well, but I’m willing to bet they are given precious little leeway in their training when it comes to who gets fined and who doesn’t. If the council is handing out apologies, it likely should be issuing one to its officers as well.

“But these are decent folk being persecuted by a nanny state,” I hear you cry. And I stand impervious, I’m afraid. Because I’ve heard that line a lot recently and it’s beginning to grate.

It’s the same argument used against speed cameras and parking fines. How often have you heard those caught out proclaim themselves as “law-abiding citizens” and bemoan the infringement of their freedom? I have news for you: if you break the speed limit, or park illegally, or indeed break health and safety or trading regulations, you are not a law-abiding citizen. You’re actually the one who’s in the wrong.

And rarely is ignorance an excuse. Speed limits and parking regulations are posted clearly. In the case of the now famous lemonade stand, the father in question is even quoted as saying “I thought that they would just tell us to pack up and go home.” So he knew he was breaking the rules. He just didn’t think the consequences should apply to him.

A culture of entitlement, and a belief that rules are for other people but not us, is a disease gripping middle Britain. It is demonstrated in many different ways, from the driver telling the cyclist that she has no right to be on the road because she doesn’t pay road tax (I know), to the father holding up his daughter’s tears to get out of a fine.

I know, I’m a monster. But hooray for the enforcers, I say.

Duncan Hothersall is the editor of Labour Hame