How will Clegg do first time out?

How will Clegg do first time out?

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    Will he be able to cope with the Vince Cable comparisons?

The first PMQs after the Christmas recess is at noon and will be the first occasion when the young new Lib Dem leader gets his chance to put two questions to the Prime Minister.

After yesterday’s 3% boost in the Lib Dem share with Populus Clegg must be feeling that bit more confident.

No one will be aware more than him what happened exactly two years ago when his predecessor, Ming Campbell, did his first PMQs in the first session of 2006. A wounding heckle about Ming needing to “declare an interest” over his age by the late Eric Forth brought laughter from all sides and left the acting leader floundering.

Clegg’s task today has not been made any easier by the way that the stand-in leader, Vince Cable has emerged as such a dominant commons figure particularly in the way he has been able to poke fun at Gordon. But without in anyway undermining Vince’s performance’s he has had an easier ride. There’s been no need for the other parties to knock him down because he was only temporary.

That won’t be the same with Nick Clegg for both the Tory and Labour thug elements having a real interest in inflicting early damage. Whatever they say the success or failure of Clegg’s party will have a big impact on the next election.

The voters that all three main parties are scrapping over occupy the part of the political spectrum where the Lib Dems have most appeal. Labour wants back the supporters who switched in 2005 and the Tories want to hold onto to those Lib Dems who have been attracted by Cameron.

Make no mistake PMQs are important for all the party leaders. In normal times the government has such a control of the news agenda that this weekly ritual can often be the only occasion that the opposition parties can get heard.

My guess is that Clegg will survive OK this lunch-time. He’s not one to leave things to chance and will have been working hard at game-playing and preparing some aces for Gordon.

Live streaming should be available here on the BBC Parliament homepage.

Mike Smithson

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