Sunday, September 27, 2009

Will the real Nick Clegg please stand up?

Lucy Mangan wrote in the Guardian yesterday:

The leader of the Liberal Democrats had a tough conference, what with all the back-biting and curious decision to turn on Vince Cable, the only known member of the party outside – well, the party.

The real problem for Little Nicky, of course, is that he ain't got no schtick. Paddy Ashdown had "killing people for Britain, back in the day". Charles Kennedy had "I go on Have I Got News For You and at any point I might fall off this lectern!" and Ming Campbell had the undeniable kudos of having been present at the creation of the earth. What's the Cleggster bringing to the table? "I went to a public school but it's not as bad as Eton." That's not a third way – that's Cameron Lite. And boy, nobody, nobody wants that.
I thought we had all finished making jokes about Ming being old. I thought we now felt a little ashamed of them.

But she is on to something.

Because we do not know Nick Clegg very well. I am not so much thinking of a portion of the general public not knowing him at all - that comes with the territory for leaders of third parties and will be rectified at the general election.

I am thinking more of Liberal Democrat voters and members. Speaking for myself, I do not have a strong sense of who Nick Clegg is or what he stands for.

With his talk of private education and private health, attractive wife and young children, he makes life with the Cleggs sound rather Boden catalogue. (And Johnnie Boden was at Eton with David Cameron - you see Nick's problem.)

And Nick's successful campaign for the party leadership in 2007 was notably light on policy.

So when Stephen Tall left a comment on this blog saying:

Personally, I hope Nick adopts and stick to the style he's most comfortable with - if that's a conversational walk-about, so be it.

It seems very odd to criticise Nick's supposed obsession with marketing/spin experts, and then to urge he change his preferred speaking style in response to what Cameron does.

My reaction was that I had no sense of whether the walk-about style is in fact the one Nick is most comfortable with.

I suspect the real Nick Clegg owes a lot to his cosmopolitan - almost exotic - background and that the roots of his liberalism lie there too. It is a background Liberal Democrat members would like to hear about and it would chime with many voters in modern Britain. It would also help to differentiate him from David Cameron in the public mind.

But maybe Team Clegg are afraid that talking about Nick's background would frighten the horses?

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dreamingspire said...

Didn't someone write that his background is Dutch?

Neil Stockley said...

interesting suggestions . . .

what story about the Lib Dems do you think Nick's background would embody?

what sort of voters do you think it would appeal to?