The most notable thing about Nick Clegg’s leadership of the LibDems so far has been his decision about where to sit in the Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions. Ever since his party were allowed to squat on the front opposition bench below the gangway, the LibDem leader has spoken from the end of that bench, perilously close to the Tory front bench and directly opposite Dennis Skinner.
But Clegg has eschewed such a prominent position in the House, choosing instead to sit third along. Was this because he wanted the security of having friendly faces on either side of him? Hardly – he sits next to Chris Huhne. No, the answer lies in recent history when the late Eric Forth MP mischievously looked over Ming Campbell’s shoulder at the then LibDem leader’s speaking notes as he prepared nervously for PMQs. So when Ming stood up to ask about pensions, Eric had his heckle well-rehearsed: “Declare your interest!” he barked when Ming ill-advisedly paused mid-question.
The uproar and Ming’s response to it did more to cripple Ming’s leadership than almost any other factor, and his successor is determined to avoid the same mistake. The only people who can read his earnest but dull scribbles are his own colleagues, so he should be safe enough from sabotage. Right?