‘Call Clegg': Nick survives first radio phone-in grilling

Today was the day History Was Made. At least if you believe LBC Radio’s self-publicity. To be slightly more precise, Nick Clegg took part in the first of his weekly Call Clegg phone-ins on LBC Radio, putting his job on the line (geddit?!) for 30 minutes.

If you missed it, Andrew Sparrow live-blogged the six questions for The Guardian here. There were no shocks, surprises or gaffes. He’d most happily go for a drink with Ken Clarke out of any Tory; he defended the Coalition’s welfare reforms, fees policy, overseas aid budget; he argued (to an ex-Lib Dem who’s just torn up his membership card after 30 years) that the Lib Dems were making life fairer for the poorest through lifting the income tax threshold, introducing the pupil premium, and extending apprenticeships and free child-care; and he championed Britain remaining in Europe.

As he proved during the TV election debates in 2010, Nick’s best speaking style is a direct Q&A with the public. It’s not that he’s a bad public speaker, but he’s generally much better interacting more spontaneously. A lot of it is down to practise. I pointed out in 2010 that his Town Hall-style meetings had been the perfect training ground for the debates, and he’s continued them even as Deputy Prime Minister: 2012’s was even coined the ‘Bring on the Hatred’ tour.

The risk of the weekly phone-in is that it quickly becomes stale, that Nick will start to sound like a cracked record if week-in-week-out he uses the same arguments to defend the Lib Dems. The upside to that risk is bigger, I think, which is to ‘normalise’ Nick’s defences on controversial issues to the point where they become boring. In many ways it’s a repeat of Tony Blair’s “masoochism stategy”, as the BBC’s Chris Mason points out here. (West Wing devotees may remember Arnie Vinick’s stategy for defusing his backing of a nuclear power station where there was later a deadly explosion: taking every question at a live press conference, answering them all in full, until there wasn’t a single question left to be asked. Drawin’ the sting, running ‘em dry…) If Nick is harangued week-in-week-out over fees for the next two years i) he’ll work out the best, crispest way to defend the policy and the U-turn, and ii) it’s less likely still to be as explosive an issue come 2015.

Of course the downside could be that everyone just fixates on the one bit of trivia that the programme throws up — such as that Nick owns a green ‘onesie’ — and ignores all the rest. Still I can’t imagine the BBC or ITV or the broadsheets or the tabloids doing that, can you? Or even LibDemVoice…

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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20 Comments

  • Nick (not Clegg) 10th Jan '13 - 12:28pm

    I think I recognised the voice of “John from Woking” who’d just torn up his membership card. If it’s who I think it is (I’ve emailed him to check), I assisted his campaign when he was elected to Surrey County Council. I’m delighted to welcome him to the ranks of ex LibDems (or should that be LibDems in exile?).

  • Looking at the blog this was not the stage managed event that some claimed it would be. As someone who is definitely not a Clegg fan I again applaud this move and his courage for undertaking it…

  • Peter Watson 10th Jan '13 - 2:00pm

    The Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/nick-clegg/9792665/Nick-Clegg-onesie-question-posed-by-Old-Etonian-Lib-Dem-intern.html) would have us believe that the caller who asked about the onesie is a certain Harry Matthews of this parish, “acting chair of the national organisation Liberal Youth” and the donor of the aforementioned onesie.

  • Kirsten de Keyser 10th Jan '13 - 3:24pm

    The key to avoiding repeated weekly debate going stale is to ask “what would you do?”
    This serves two purposes:
    1. It engages the caller in the two-way-exchange a phone-in allows for and [hopefully] points to the relative sanity of unpopular Government policy.
    2. It appears as a genuine listening exercise on Nick’s part, rather than merely being another soap-box for a politician who feels unloved.

    And please Nick, do avoid the current politicians’ fad for sounding like Richard Madeley or sporting a chirpy TinTin quiff.

  • Maggie Smith 10th Jan '13 - 3:27pm

    It would be nice if he could do something without it being sidetracked by some frivolity.

    A much needed apology turned into a music tube. This LBC thing lost in the “onesie” joviality. Politics in this country is wrecked, answer the questions, stop turning it into a side show, we don’t need crowd pleasing spectacle, we need answers, explanations with meaning.

    Benefits cut because of the harsh economic reality, then why not “The 50 p tax rate kept because of the harsh economic reality” or “A genuine clamp down on tax loopholes because of the harsh economic reality”. That isn’t an answer that’s a fob off.

    The other two are just as bad, Cameron and his “jolly japes” and PMQs and Milliband acting like the laurel to his Hardy.

    Grow up all of you, WE pay you, if we want entertaining we will watch comedy re-runs on TV

  • No, Maggie. That would be boring.

    Just because you don’t like the answers you’re given doesn’t mean they are wrong answers, and that’s no reason to expect different answers.

  • @Simon Shaw

    With regards to the 50% rate tax you should read

    http://fullfact.org/factchecks/labour_50p_tax_rate_millionaires_leave_country-28645

    In HMRC’s own words:
    “…there was a considerable behavioural response to the rate change, including a substantial amount of forestalling: around £16 billion to £18 billion of income is estimated to have been brought forward to 2009-10 to avoid the introduction of the additional rate of tax.”
    This suggests that the figures for 2009-10 are larger than would have otherwise been the case if the policy hadn’t been announced and these people hadn’t brought forward their declared income (certain people can alter the ‘timing’ of their income, sometimes to avoid changes in rates). HMRC confirm this in their latest statistics release:
    “Forestalling in 2009-10 exerts a significant influence on the projected profile of combined liabilities due at higher and additional rates of tax. These are projected to have fallen in 2010-11 as incomes for the richest decline from forestalled to below ‘normal levels’, but recover in later years as these special factors subside, and economic recovery is assumed to build.”

    So putting the tax up to 50% did not drive away 10,000 people earning over a Million pounds, They just brought forward their tax liabilities for the following year to take advantage of the lower rate before it increased to 50%, if the rate had been maintained it would have evened out and brought in more taxes.

  • Paul Walter 10th Jan '13 - 7:41pm

    “If Nick is harangued week-in-week-out over fees for the next two years i) he’ll work out the best, crispest way to defend the policy and the U-turn”

    Blimey. I thought he’d already had enough practice to do that in his sleep…

  • Peter Watson 10th Jan '13 - 8:54pm

    @matt “They just brought forward their tax liabilities for the following year to take advantage of the lower rate before it increased to 50%, if the rate had been maintained it would have evened out and brought in more taxes.”
    For the tories and Lib Dems who supported reducing the 50% tax rate, this misleading spin works both ways. Announcing in advance the reduction of the top rate means those wealthy people who can do so will defer drawing their income until the lower rate kicks in, so we will see a year of low tax revenue at a 50% rate followed by a high revenue of delayed tax at 45%, easily spun as a great success. All other things being equal, this would then be followed by a drop back to “normal” revenues. But guess when the 2015 election will be. Hint: not after a probable drop!

  • Nick (not Clegg)” I think I recognised the voice of “John from Woking” who’d just torn up his membership card. If it’s who I think it is (I’ve emailed him to check), I assisted his campaign when he was elected to Surrey County Council. I’m delighted to welcome him to the ranks of ex LibDems (or should that be LibDems in exile?).”

    I actually wondered whether it was Matthew Huntbach. That may be just because I now see Matthew Huntbach everywhere!

  • I have to rush to the defence of Tin Tin quiffs here!!

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Jan '13 - 3:57am

    Phyllis

    I actually wondered whether it was Matthew Huntbach. That may be just because I now see Matthew Huntbach everywhere!

    I do not live in Woking. I was a councillor in the somewhat less salubrious London Borough of Lewisham.

  • I’m sorry to say I think a lot of damage has been done which is probably unforgiveable. Try being ill and facing ATOS. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty. Try being disabled, requiring assistance at night, and being forced into a one-bedroom property (if you can find one). And you have Duncan Smith promising worse after the next election. What about having rings run around you by the Tories over voting, or Europe? NONE of these save much money, but do real or potential damage. I will vote Libdem next time because we have an excellent MP and I want to keep him, but it won’t be because of anything Nick says or can do between now and then…..

  • Peter Watson 11th Jan '13 - 1:42pm

    @Steve Middleton “Typical Sky.”
    If the question was from a Lib Dem activist, acting chair, of Liberal Youth, personally known to Nick Clegg, the person who gave Clegg the onesie, etc., then he should be grateful that he isn’t being accused of planting questions and using stooges.

  • Clegg really is to be admired. No way Cameron or Miliband could do these phone-ins on a frequent basis. Why? Because neither actually knows what they think and what their position is on things. Clegg responds on instinct, he’s not afraid to let people know his politics. No matter the question, he knows his position. Cameron is a complete vacuum, he would have to think “mmm, what am I meant to think about that” after every question. Miliband seems more like he has opinions, but sadly he just follows the populist line all the time. He might not be a vacuum, but so far he has been too weak to stand up for what he actually thinks.

  • Peter Watson 11th Jan '13 - 10:14pm

    @tom “No way Cameron or Miliband could do these phone-ins on a frequent basis. Why?”
    Because no politician is going to risk trashing their reputation with a bad encounter with the public unless they’ve nothing left to lose.

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