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Exposing your throat to the press

April 7th, 2011 Posted in Leadership, Liberal Democrats by

I have some sympathy for Nick Clegg as a fellow human being. Less for his persistent errors of judgement with the media.

In his latest interview, exposing his human frailty, and pressures of office on his family, he has invited the reaction he is now getting.

Headlines such as:

“Why do people hate you daddy” – Daily Mail

“Nick Clegg: I cry to music” – Daily Telegraph

“I’m not a punchbag, I have feelings” – New Statesman

“Nick Clegg reveals he is a softy who blubs over music” – Mirror

“EU agrees rescue package for Nick Clegg’s feelings” – Daily Mash

Whilst I’m sure his comments are entirely sincere and a reminder of the nasty grinding impact of being bullied; as a media strategy it has echos of the ‘no more than 30’ misjudgement in his relevations to Piers Morgan in 2008.

The problem is this, the media are not nice. Their job is hold the powerful to account and act as an echo chamber for public opinion. The headlines are the polite version of what people say about politicians in pubs.  

Public opinion is down on the Deputy Prime Minister as a result of the decisions he has taken, and failure to prepare the ground for them. The basis of the attacks on Clegg, if not the substance or tone of each attack is fair.

The media then are like a schoolyard bully who has wandered up to young Clegg and said “by the way all the other kids hate you… smelly” before punching him repeatedly.

His metaphorical and understandable human reaction has been to burst into tears and wail ‘leave me alone’.

This is not noted as a playground strategy likely to elicit sympathy, or fewer punches. More an invitation to add a boot to the groin.

“Wah, wah, look at the cry baby” is what is happening with the headlines today.

His only credible options then are to stand up to the bullies, even the odds, or quit school.

Option one is not easy. The media are not like Hollywood bullies who quit when you punch back. More like a computer pack of regenerating mutants, in suits of armour, with big weapons, queued up around the block waiting their turn. Fans of the Matrix will feel some empathy with Nick Clegg’s plight, if holding some suspicion as to whether he is ‘the One’.

For option two I’m unclear who Nick’s bastards actually are. Where is his Alistair Cambpell or Andy Coulson?

The current team appear to trying to fend off the bullies with alarm clocks and appeals to their compassion. Whilst making a bully laugh can work, it appears not to have been successful on this occasion.

Option three would be a diasaster for the Liberal Democrats. For all his misteps Nick Clegg’s instincts are usually right and he remains a standout political talent in the top team.

His opponents care less about him, more about ending the coalition. An early end would make it hard for the party to be taken seriously as a robust partner in any future Government, whoever leads.

He should then stick to his guns. He is the right person for the job and these are still early days in an administration that has only come about through his leadership.

In his heart Nick Clegg knows he can be a Leader who makes a lasting difference to the prosperity and liberty of the nation. He should listen to that inner voice, and let it speak, not the emotional spasms of opponents who care about neither

17 Responses to “Exposing your throat to the press”

  1. Jack Says:

    “More like a computer pack of regenerating mutants, in suits of armour, with big weapons, queued up around the block waiting their turn.”


  2. Ed Joyce Says:

    What Nick should do is to lead by example. I would have posted in support of Nick if it were not for Nick having a pop at Lembit Opik at the Welsh Lib Dem conference. I understand the issues about Lembit which are raised by some elements of the party but why alienate a group within the party that might actually stand up for you when you need it.

    Does anyone think that I should be unhappy about Nick getting a good kicking ?

    I am disappointed by the course of events and hope that Nick changes. The whole ‘not quite 30’ issue and the endless cartoons of Nick as Camerons fag reflect a deeper issue.

    Nick needs to fix this and fast. He should call in some experts to give some advice. Can we not draft in Mark Littlewood who knows a bit about the media to put him on the straight and narrow.


  3. Dan Falchikov Says:

    Drafting in Littlewood would compound the problem. But Andy has hit the nail on the head here. What people need to see is delivery of Clegg’s and the Lib Dems’ priorities in government.

    Here’s a question. What is the Lib Dem agenda in government?

  4. Ed Joyce Says:


    You might put a link to your own blog

    It is just about identical to what the author writes so is probably a common view in the party.

    I don’t see the slightest difference between what ML would propose and what AM has written and I would be very surprised if you could either.


  5. Lembit Says:

    I’ve just returned from defending Nick on the ‘This Week’ programme with Andrew Neil. It’s true he is getting a very critical treatment in the media just now. But his performance is defensible – as long as the Party holds its nerve; and as long as the leadership ‘inner circle’ take care not to alienate those unheralded supporters in a position to assist him in the popular press.

  6. Mark Littlewood Says:

    I’m not available to be “drafted” whether wanted or not (and it’s a “definitely not!”).

    The media management issue is this…

    You can’t reinvent the product (the leader). You shouldn’t try.

    The most absurd elements of this under Ming’s leadership were efforts to get him to wear contact lenses, or softer coloured ties or some such other nonsense. People who earn decent money in public relations were seriously sitting around in meetings giving this sort of advice.

    The “it’s over” moment for me was when some ridiculous video of Ming kicking around a football with some youngsters was posted up on youtube. This wasn’t caught on camera by the paps, it was a deliberate comms policy by the LibDems. Total and utter madness.

    Clegg’s failing as a politician (amongst his many strengths) is that he’s conversational. This is where the the “30 women”, “crying to music”, “Webb and Hunhe are useless” stories come from. He can chat for an hour and not realise that half a dozen words – as an aside – becomes the big story.

    In the biz, I think this is called being “gaffe prone” – however endearing.

    The comms plan should be pretty easy:

    1. The Deputy PM needs to work out what it is he wants to say to the nation. In not much more than 12 words.
    2. He needs to say it over and over again – and apply it to any circumstance in which he finds himself.
    3. Reaffirm 1 and reiterate 2….and do virtually NOTHING else.

    No spin doctor, however, can operate effectively without point 1 being sorted out. He/she can advise on point 1, but can’t enforce it.

    They can advise you to make a joke of things though. This can be your salvation oddly, enough.

    If Ming had started a speech saying “Impressive hey…I made it up to the stage without a zimmer frame or chair lift. I don’t know how…but somehow I made it. It’s tough being a little old-fashioned, you know. But hey, there are more of us are than you’d think…hell, I have a glass of water here, but I seem to have mislaid my Werthers Originals…do you reckon I can still get through a 45 min speech unaided???…let’s ses….” ….he may…just may… have made it….

    Of course, what actually happened was complaints (or mainly internal LibDem grumbles) about “ageism”.

  7. Jack Hughes Says:


    Great idea: a quick summary of what the party means.

    Has anyone got any pointers? (Serious question)

  8. Psi Says:

    @ JH

    How about “Freedom”

  9. Jack Hughes Says:

    Freedom is great and always striving to preserve and increase freedom would be good aims for the party. As well as being a good policy it’s very simple and clear.

    Sadly the Liberal Dem party seems to stand for some freedom with a huge side order of social engineering after a big starter of trendy nonsense like global warming and helping the 3rd world.

    It’s a mixed message and a difficult sell. It’s also hard to figure out the party position on a topic.

    For example a freedom position says: choose your own transport andpay for it yourself.
    An LD policy tries to encourage you to ride a bike and wants to punish motorists.

  10. Psi Says:

    I agree that there are many issues where this is perhaps not the case (banning stuff for example). Perhaps if the Libdems did have a very simple message of freedom as their aim it could be used as a benchmark against which policies would have to be judged, hopefully reducing the tendency to produce illiberal policies.

  11. Jack Hughes Says:

    Foreign aid is a simple example.

    The freedom argument is that people should be free to send their own money abroad if they wish – and also free to keep their own money instead.

    The LD argument idea is to take money off everyone (tax) and send it abroad.

  12. Louise C Says:

    Freedom is rather useless without a habitable planet in which to exercise that freedom. Therefore a party promoting liberties can argue for some restrictions on the grounds that not imposing such restrictions will lead to a much bigger curtailment of freedom in the long term.

    That said, this is a somewhat utilitarian calculation & the data used has to be absolutely spot on (which it is n’t). Policies along these lines would be better if they were directed at the long-term impact of energy scarcity and pollution on our freedoms.

    I agree with ML’s diagnosis, but I also think we’re all rather tired of politians who repeat the same soundbites over & over. Afterall, no one says Clegg is boring anymore, do they? 😉

  13. Ed Joyce Says:

    The definition Jack gives of liberalism ties only loosely with definitions libertarians in the party would give of liberalism. Liberalism is built on the work of John Stuart Mill and the harm principle. This means that you can do as you wish as long as you do not harm someone else. The question for liberals is what happens when you do harm someone else. In the case of cars versus bikes we need to determine which produces the most harm. Whichever produces the most harm needs to have action taken to alleviate that harm. Jack calls this ‘punishment’. If we slightly tweak Jacks statement to

    An LD policy tries to encourage you to ride a bike and if you are a motorist pay for the damage that you do.

    it would be liberal. I do support motorists rights and as a party we can be imaginative in doing this. An example would be to introduce more parking spaces, and simplify parking schemes. The damage from increased motoring from this needs to be offset, possibly by an extension of tax breaks given to low emisssion cars and an increase in the general level of tax to compensate for this. Some people seem to mistake liberalism for ‘I can do what I like’.

    Jack states “Freedom is great and always striving to preserve and increase freedom would be good aims for the party” but this does not define the word liberal but libertine. For it to be liberal it needs to show some awareness of harm and how that harm is to be rectified. Actually elements of the Conservative party seem to show past practice of ‘libertinism’. This is seen in the attudes of members of the Bullingdon Club

    Andrew Gimson, biographer of Boris Johnson, reported about the club in the 1980s: “I don’t think an evening would have ended without a restaurant being trashed and being paid for in full, very often in cash. […] A night in the cells would be regarded as being par for a Buller man and so would debagging anyone who really attracted the irritation of the Buller men.”[14]

    This kind of freedom is not liberalism.

    There are similar arguments on foreign aid. We need to look at global assets such as cross border pollution and the right to satellite space. I agree we need a coherent and consistent message but we must be careful not to be seen as libertines.

  14. Jack Hughes Says:

    A right to satellite space ?

    Do you get out much these days ?

  15. Ed Joyce Says:


    Could you let me know if you are the Tea Party supporter from New Hampshire who made the following posts

    “I also maintain my right to keep on pissing myself laughing at you. colon-hyphen-parenthesis.”

    “A good outcome is for the pols to quietly shelve their barmy “war on carbon” ideas and slink of to do something else.”

    “Show more pity for the man. Like other politicians he doesn’t beleieve in anything at all now.”

    Since it took only a few minutes to find these comments I assume that you believe that it is OK to make personal attacks in public forums. I would urge you to reconsider this approach. Freedom lovers need to find common ground. Please try to take a more mature approach.


  16. Jack Hughes Says:

    Hi Ed,

    First one (abctales) ain’t me. (But sounds good :) )

    The big thing about freedom is that you either believe in it – or you don’t.

    It looks like the LD view on freedom is “freedom, but…”

    Which is not freedom.

  17. Ed Joyce Says:

    In that case there is a second Jack Hughes making personal attacks on posts related to freedom. Another line from the poster with the same name was

    “those years at Charm School were well worth the money, sky.”

    Was that you or someone with the same name ?

    The basic issue is that you act and talk like a libertine – ie you do whatever you want, not a libertarian believing in the harm principle. This is why you might have an issue with views in this forum.