Peacenik Ken’s no-control zone

Clarke remains remains delightfully unspun in the era of control freakery.

Do broadcasters expect the creaky coalition to collapse, scenting the people's toff, David Cameron, will seek the approval of his distant relative the Queen for an early general election? The Con-Dem pact is supposed to last until Thursday 7 May 2015. That's four and a bit years into the future. Yet I hear telly types have written to Ed Miliband asking the Labour leader to take part in TV election debates.

The approach strikes your correspondent as a tad premature, unless, of course, the BBC, ITV and Sky sniff a cooling in the once-intense love between Dave and Nick. It wouldn't be the first civil partnership to end in divorce over rowdy kids.

Wealthier Lib Dems billeted in the four-star Mercure complained the water ran tepid, not hot, during the yellow-bellies' spring retreat behind a wall of steel in Sheffield. Lukewarm showers may be considered too good for Clegg and co by the party's critics, including many in its coalition partner. Public spending cuts are poised to bite hard but there was no sign of austerity at the HQ hotel. Empty champagne bottles my snout stepped over in corridors suggested it was party time for the Lib Dumb high command.

To Teignmouth for Any Questions with, among others, Ken Clarke. The Injustice Secretary drove himself to Devon from London and remains delightfully unspun in the era of control freakery. I would wager that the flak Peacenik Ken put up over Wing Commander Cameron's Libyan no-fly zone wasn't in the cabinet brief. Clarke's pro-European and liberal with a small "l" views make him a constant target for the Mail, Torygraph, Sun and Express. The insouciance with which this Conservative member of the cabinet dismisses Tory rags as "the right-wing media" must horrify pimpled spin doctors. And it's worse than fulminating editors of the blue press think: Clarke reads the yellow Indie.

"Sir" George Osborne's trainee attack puppy, Matthew Hancock, is a persistent breed. The young MP issued two near-identical press releases within the space of five days accusing Ed "Bruiser" Balls of losing £9bn on Treasury gold sales 12 years ago. The only change was the metal's price of $1,437 in the first then $1,444 in the second. Neither missive, as far as I could see, received coverage. Hancock should adopt the motto: "If at first you don't succeed, try and fail again."

Accident-prone Ipsa commits so many errors, the expenses police were forced to warn MPs that they accept "no liability, including liability for negligence" for email blunders by the force's own staff. MPs accused of fiddling should adopt the same weasel tactics.

The Commons will no longer bloom as brightly in the spring. Expenditure on flowers is to be slashed by£29,000 to £87,000. That's good news for hay-fever sufferers, and still seems quite a lot. But will there be enough for Lord Janner's vivid lapel?

Cuts bite, too, in Commons canteens. Doughnuts have halved in size, despite the price remaining at 60p.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 21 March 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The drowned world