You might already have heard that Nick Clegg, the fatigable, self-titled Deputy Prime Minister*, has decided to go on LBC Radio every Thursday morning to answer questions by members of the public, because he needs to be more in touch with the people. Yes, that’s right, he’s signed himself up for a weekly half-hour phone-in bollocking. I wasn’t the only one to receive this bit of PR news with some level of incredulity, bemusement and your basic expression of WTF.
This is an attempt to make amends for harsh criticisms that the corridors of Whitehall and Westminster are full of ‘professional politician’ with plastic smiles and insincere eyes, or the old classic of the Etonian boys club and the collective ignorance of the price of milk. But how good an attempt is this really? Yes, he’s engaging directly with anyone with enough time on their hands to listen to LBC, write to them, or wait on their phone-line listening to a tinny section of the Overture from Bizet’s Carmen on repeat (I’m guessing, I haven’t actually called them.) But with mild controversies from the get-go, such as the green onesie affair, in which ‘Harry from Sheffield’, who asked the DPM the only question to make him seem slightly less lizard-like, turned out to be a fairly active young Lib-Dem member, you’ve got to wonder what the real rationale is.
Granted, he has increasingly appeared to be the coalition government’s whipping boy, but this (brave?) decision does cause concerns about his credibility and standing within the coalition. Whilst Clegg goes in for a weekly ear-bashing from armchair generals and curtain-twitchers** from all over the country, Cameron appears on carefully selected discussion shows such as Daybreak on ITV1 (presumably because the BBC is probably too high-brow or too tainted now) to repeat his carefully rehearsed announcements and offer his carefully assembled smile-of-the-people. Perhaps some SpAd or spin guru suggested that Nick has the perfect face for radio (a cheap shot, I know).
Whether they were trying to boost public confidence in elected officials, increase the Lib Dem popularity ratings, or trying to slowly put Clegg out to pasture, audience reactions were as vociferous as one might expect from a rage-brewing radio station such as ‘London’s Biggest Conversation’. It remains to be seen if this can repair damage to his personal and party reputation, damage which even the hilarious ‘apology’ video couldn’t undo.
*I haven’t got a huge problem with him, but I do wish he would retrieve his backbone from the back of the coalition sofa.
** Credit to www.ifyoulikeitsomuchwhydontyougolivethere.com – no, really, click it.
Photo Credit: Chatham House, London