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Alarming Clock-Up

March 25th, 2011 Posted in Liberal Democrats, Spin by

Rumour reaches us that a senior member of the Cabinet has started referring to Nick Clegg’s pet phase as “the people Nick Clegg likes to call Alarm Clock Britain”. A helpful clarification, and touchingly loyal.

It is hard though to find commentators with a good thing to say about this phrase. Who after-all wishes to be associated with a thing that forces you out of bed.

Liberal Democrat activists tend to pause before commenting, usually adding, ‘well of course he means people who work’. To be entirely correct they should add ‘and are lower rate tax payers’… ‘with children’… and ‘get on with stuff’. Obviously… clear as mud…

No one is entirely sure who isn’t ‘Alarm-clock Britain’. Students before the new policy? Pensioners? The dead?

Much commentary then, of which a selection below, is incredulous.

“What the hell or rather who the hell is he talking about?”

“they mean pretty much the same group of people that Ed Miliband called “the squeezed middle

“it’s a group he defines in the vaguest, most frustrating terms possible – almost as if he doesn’t really know what the hell he’s going on about.”

“I don’t know one single person who really resonates with the phrase.”

“‘Alarm clock Britain’ is the new political label for hard-working ordinary people. How patronising.”

The brave genius behind the phrase, is… no one:

“Lib Dem insiders the phrase has no single author, insisting it was a “team effort” among Mr Clegg’s aides and colleagues.”

A sure sign no one wishes to carry the can. As a result John Sharkey (ad-man) and Richard Reeves (wonk) often get fingered by the commentariat. How unfair.

There’s nothing new about political labels designed to capture a section of voters with whom politicians wish to associate.. “Mondeo Man”, “Worcester Women”, “Soccer Moms”… and so on.

 In marketing, such segment labels are useful short-hand for groups with common but complex characteristics.  

But they are only normally used inside campaigns. Devising a conscious strategy to sound like you’ve just emerged from a creative brainstorm with 10 year-olds high on fizzy pop, is quite novel.

However two months of non-stop abuse about this has not stopped the DPM putting it into his conference speech five times and using it as the headline for his Budget communication. He appears to have remarkable resilience to the sound of bells.

Any phrase that needs to be explained, every time it is used, is not a helpful short-hand.

Any phrase that makes Nick sound like a visitor from planet Alarm-Clock, in need of a Clegg-to-human translator, is unlikely to improve his reputation.

Anything so obviously flakey that didn’t get shot down in flames by his team or the MPs, suggests a degree of group-think is creeping into the bunker. That’s dangerous.

George W. Bush was always very good at getting himself out of his innumerate communication cock-ups with folksey charm. He would frankly admit his errors, shrug, and move on. He made his weakness for gaffes an endearing strength.  

Nick, or “Calamity Clegg” as his erstwhile leadership opponent used to call him, might do the same… “it sounded great when we threw it around the team, but on reflection…”

The alarm-clock is ringing Nick… are you listening?’

2 Responses to “Alarming Clock-Up”

  1. Ed Joyce Says:

    Absolutely right Andy. As a member of ‘alarm clock Britain’ I find it a completely condescending phrase, implying that we are somehow an opressed group. Next thing we will be recommending a charity cake stall to help relive the sufferings of those with alarm clocks. Nick should remember that we played a huge role in bringing down the 13 year labour government and have succeeded in raising the tax threshold – no mean feat.

    What is required is radical political change shifting the balance of power between land and labour. Rather than ‘alarm clock Britain’ we should be looking at the needs of ‘non unionised workers’, a broad group of blue and white collar workers who are natural liberals. This is a lot more helpful than the term alarm clock Britain which should go the way of Mondeo man and Worcester women.


  2. Jack Hughes Says:

    Show more pity for the man.

    Like other politicians he doesn’t beleieve in anything at all now. They’re all suffering from political exhaustion.

    So he’s fishing around for something that sounds profound and good but won’t frighten anyone.

    Blair had his “third way” and Cameron has his “big society”. Major had the “cones hotline” and now Clegg has his “alarm clock UK”.