Clegg ‘annoyed’ not to be meeting Obama

I preface this with a health-warning: the story is by Richard Key in the Daily Mail. Still, it comes with direct attributed quotes…

With all the fanfare surrounding the Obama visit, meeting the new U.S. president has become the hottest ticket in town. In short order he will see the Queen, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, but one figure who will not shake the presidential hand during the G20 conference is Nick Clegg. …

‘I am really annoyed,’ he told me. ‘As it was not a state visit I understood I wouldn’t get to see him. But when I found out Obama was meeting the Queen and David Cameron I got on the phone to David Miliband to ask him what was going on.

‘Frankly, it doesn’t look good for Cameron to see him and for me not to.’

The outburst came just moments before Obama’s plane touched down at Stansted airport. Instead of preparing to meet the president, Clegg was at the launch of Vince Cable’s new book on the economic crisis at the National Liberal Club.

At one point he turned to Cable and told him: ‘If I do get to go, I will give Obama a copy of your book.’ … Clegg’s appeal to Miliband is unlikely to succeed. Obama is not meeting any other opposition leaders during his later trip to Europe.

At first sight this might seem like grand-standing from Nick. But he does have a point, I think – this isn’t a state visit, and so there is no reason of protocol why President Obama shouldn’t meet the leader of the Liberal Democrats. Ah, foes will say, but the Lib Dems are not the main opposition party. True enough – but that didn’t stop Gordon Brown from ensuring that the Lib Dem shadow cabinet should be able to meet with the corresponding permanent secretaries of their departments.

Apart from anything else, it might be nice for President Obama to meet a senior British politician who, like him, actually opposed the Iraq war at the time.

Update: The Spectator’s Coffee House blog has picked up on the story, too, and reckon this is not (as a couple of commenters have speculated) an April Fool’s joke from Richard Key. But Nick’s office has refuted the quotes attributed to him:

Clegg’s office says that Clegg did not speak to Richard Kay. They also emphatically deny that he has called Miliband to try and get in to see Obama. In a way, what is surprising is that, when Obama announced his intention to meet with Cameron, the government didn’t try and get him to meet with Clegg as well to dilute the impact of the Cameron-Obama meeting.

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  • I must admit I assumed this was an April fool. Are you saying it isn’t?

  • It does say “Last updated at 12:00 AM on 01st April 2009”

  • I don’t know. It seems sort of fair to me for Clegg to say this. After all, Bush met Kennedy (when we had fewer seats too).

  • If it is an April Fool, it’s a pretty poor one, because Clegg has said so many more embarrassing things than this to journalists.

  • In fact, funnily enough, exactly a year ago today people were discussing Clegg’s interview for GQ magazine in much the same terms – “Are you sure this isn’t an April Fool?”

  • Richard Kay says it’s not an April Fool on the Spectator blog:

  • So we’re down to Clegg denying he said it and Richard Kay insisting he did?

  • “On the other hand I cannot believe he’d be daft enough to say all that in deadly earnest to a Mail journalist.”

    Surely he’s said plenty of daft things to journalists since he became leader?

  • Alix Mortimer 2nd Apr '09 - 10:06am

    Yeah, but that’s *really* daft. I never thought the 30 women thing was at all daft, remember. I’m still pretty disgusted it was any sort of issue at all. And on the plane thing he wasn’t daft to say any of it, just daft to be overheard. This Mail guy’s implying he said these things to his face, in all seriousness. I just don’t buy it. Clegg’s not daft in that way.

  • David Morton 4th Apr '09 - 2:20pm

    If you follow the link Richard Kay has posted in the spectator blog comments.

    1. Direct allegation that Clegg spoke to Alan Davidson who works for the Diary. This can be easierly reconciled with the Clegg office statement that he didn’t speak to Richard Kay.

    2. Cleggs Office’s Statement denies that he rang Milliband to try and get in to see Obama. The article doesn’t alledge that. Clegg is quoted as ring Milliband to see what is going on which is different.

    I have no idea what has happened and its yesterdays chip wrapping. However (a) Clegg’s office has clearly issued a non denial denial. (b) journalists don’t put things in direct quotation marks lightly. Even the Mail.

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