Friday, January 28, 2011

Calder on Air: Nick Clegg on The Andrew Marr Show

My column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Marring my Sunday

Sunday mornings were not made for television. They were made for having a lie in, for not shaving and for wandering into town, ordering a skinny latte and almond croissant and reading the papers. So you can imagine what a sacrifice it was for me to get up...

To be honest, I watched The Andrew Marr Show (BBC1) on Monday evening via the BBC IPlayer. I am glad that I did, because if I were compiling a list of the people I would not want to encounter first thing on a Sunday it would read pretty much: Peter Hitchens, Amanda Plattell, Clare Short. And that was the panel that opened the show by leafing through the Sunday papers – after we had seen Marr bombing round in an open-topped car like a poor man’s Simon Dee.

If a television programme has to fall back on talking about the day’s newspapers, that staple of cheap local radio, it is probably a sign that it has too much air time to fill. So we had to suffer Plattell dropping the names of everyone she knows (and conceivably several people she doesn’t), Hitchens settling a score with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones from a few weeks back, and Short using her worst, whining “I am so obviously right I can hardly be bothered to argue with you” voice.

Things picked up after that – though they would have picked up if Bonnie Langford had come on to tap dance after that lot. Instead we had Douglas Alexander, now shadow foreign secretary after Ed Miliband’s post Alan Johnson reshuffle. He came over as calm, sensible and just a little dull. His “we must move on from Blair and Brown” means in effect “we must move on from Brown” as Blair has already been written out of Labour’s. Whether the new shadow chancellor will be so keen to move on from Brown is another question.

Then it was on to the main event of the morning: an interview with a notably confident and aggressive Nick Clegg. It was clear that he has realised he needs to argue for the new regime on tuition fees and to counter the propaganda of the National Union of Students, which could put youngsters from poorer backgrounds off higher education even though they may well pay back less than they would under the scheme Labour introduced.

He also took on the “dinosaur ex-Labour MPs” in the Lords who blocking progress on the referendum on the Alternative Vote and redrawing of parliamentary constituencies: “It’s … been a principle of political reformers down the ages – by the way including the Chartists, great forerunners of the Labour Party – that every vote should be worth the same.”

And Nick gave a signal that there is likely to be fundamental reform of the banking sector: “I think the banking system needs to be made safe. It can never again become such an oversized liability for the British economy. That's why I think there is a strong case to look at the way in which you can hive off or insulate very high-risk over-leveraged banking activities from low-risk, high street retail banking.”

One area where he did pull his punches was on the resignation of Andy Coulson. Later that day on The Politics Show (BBC1), Chris Huhne was less circumspect – he has said so much so forcibly about this affair in the past that he could not realistically go back on it.

Still, a Liberal Democrat environment secretary being asked to comment on the words of a Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister? That I should live to see such times!

In a pleasingly quirky touch, The Andrew Marr Show ended with a song from Teddy Thompson, the son of Richard and Linda Thompson. The failure of their marriage was depicted by Richard Thompson in a series of brilliant but gruelling LPs. Let’s hope that is not a metaphor for the Coalition.

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