Monday, February 28, 2011

Clegg fumbles it again

Another victim of dreadful media management - although not helped by a universally oppositional print media - is Nick Clegg. A few weeks back, he was - somewhat unfairly - castigated as a 'part-time' deputy Prime Minister. Having seen what he has done as part-time, one dreads what he would do if he was working a full-time schedule, but I digress. As someone who had recently championed 'alarm clock Britain' (whatever that is - perhaps as opposed to those in this country who are woken by their butlers or sleep through until noon), the report that his ministerial red box closed at 3pm Monday to Thursday and at noon on Fridays was always going to look bad. The fact that this doesn't indicate the times that Clegg actually knocks off work and that it allows his aides to review the documents and provide background information if required, isn't important - the myth of a part-time DPM is already out there.

Last week, Clegg shot himself in the foot with an interview with the freesheet Metro - not normally a publication that breaks big stories, but one that excelled itself.

Asked if he was in charge of the nation, Mr Clegg told Metro: ‘Yeah, I suppose I am. I forgot about that.’ Laughing off the comment, however, he said talk of who was in charge was overblown in the modern era.... ‘I’m holding the fort but I’m hoping to take the end of the week off with my kids. Someone else will have to do it then. It sounds more haphazard than it probably is.’
Yes, Calamity Clegg forgot that he was supposed to be in charge while the head prefect was away. He showed he was in charge by promptly jetting off to the family chalet in Davos, at the same time as Cameron was out of the country. Cameron quickly stamped on any thoughts that Clegg might be in charge - probably to stop a run on the pound or the utter collapse of confidence in UK plc - and reminded the press that since the advent of global communications, he remained in charge. One may assume that the communications with the Prime Minster's delegation were rather better and more reliable than those with a chalet in Switzerland.

Meanwhile, Clegg's spinners explained that those remarks were a joke at the end of the interview, a defence that will hold no water. Liam Byrne wrote a light-hearted private note to David Laws, his successor in the post of Chief Secretary, and then had to endure those words being repeated across all the networks ad nauseam by every single government spokesman as if they were holy writ. Perhaps Clegg thinks that he can get away with jokes like that, but his popularity is so poor that he can't - anything he says will be used against him and he only has himself to blame, particularly when he makes such poor decisions as the one to take a holiday just as the Libya crisis blows up. He left the Foreign Secretary to act as the face of the government, a derogation of duty.

The truths behind the stories are almost unimportant - the image of a part-time, lightweight deputy prime minister who is so irrelevant to the course of government that his absence is unnoticed will prove immensely damaging to Clegg, the Liberal Democrats and the government as a whole.

Never mind, eh?

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