Saturday, April 09, 2011

Punchbag, Doormat or Calamity?

Nick Clegg has been all over the place this week. Newsnight broadcast a difficult interview conducted by Gavin Esler, focussing on the social mobility agenda, an agenda for which Clegg has seemed rather ill-suited, given his background. Granted, this is less privileged than Osborne or Cameron, but he is still the product of money, of a private education and a leg up the ladder from a family friend. To be fair, he can't be blamed for his parents' actions - who wouldn't want to help their child? That said, the narrative doesn't hang very well around him. The interview wasn't his finest hour - although nowhere near as battering as the assault on Danny Alexander the following morning on the Today programme, when Evan Davis left Alexander a spluttering heap on the studio floor. One of the most commented upon elements was the curiously shiny, sweaty appearance of the Deputy Prime Minister and it was hard to work out whether this was a product of stress, poor lighting or dodgy make-up.

As is becoming a regular element of the Clegg narrative, we were treated to another insight into his private life through an interview with Jemima Khan in the New Statesman -
he worries constantly that "what I am doing in my work impacts on them emotionally, because my nine-year-old is starting to sense things and I'm having to explain things. Like he asks, 'Why are the students angry with you, Papa?'
I note that he apparently
tries to pick his children up from school... at least two or three times a week


Khan also picks up on Clegg's new, Nixonian image
"Pale-faced, pale-eyed and so tired he appears taxidermied, he looks like he could do with a holiday, except he's just had one... Clegg arrives two hours late.... and looks corpse-like with exhaustion... He suddenly looks very, very sad. A week later I glimpse him on television, on the front bench on Budget Day. Cameron sits to his left, looking ruddy and shiny, straight off the playing fields, ready for an interminable life of "Yeah, yeah, yeah" in the Commons. Clegg, by contrast, looks like he's in black and white – lost and out of place.

This defence by public emotional release is fast becoming a regular event in the Clegg narrative - last October, he was interviewed in Esquire magazine and revealed
...people are very angry. You don’t have to tell me. I’m getting dog excrement through my letterbox. People are spitting at me.

Although the Daily Mail didn't find anyone to corroborate this.

The truth is that the Liberal Democrats are finding this new focus upon them very difficult. Previously, of course, they were able to rely on pure oppositionalism and hoovering up votes from whichever bandwagon happened to pass by. Being in government makes life rather more difficult. Every decision carries with it the risk of offending somebody, which is not the natural stance of the LDs - they thrive on being fluffy and harmless. Power isn't harmless and comes at a price. You can see in interviews that Clegg and Alexander, in particular, become very short tempered when challenged - they simply aren't used to having to defend unpopular political positions.

Just like his focus on internships misses the point of social mobility, this repeated referral to how tough his life has become is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. It doesn't work as self-flagellation - in the way that Blair's post-Iraq media tour was about him taking public humiliation and punishment - and nor does it work to raise sympathy, when other people are worrying more about whether they can pay their mortgages, not what they might do when they leave politics.
which is something of a luxury - most people in normal 9-5 jobs never get that luxury and you wonder how the deputy prime minister could possibly find the time with what should be a full workload. Unless he has so little of substance to actually do that he can spare the time to collect the kids from school, but I digress.

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