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Oh dear – my record’s got stuck again

Simon Campion-Brown confesses

Today, at the risk of boring regular readers, I must begin with my traditional opening statement of declared interest – I personally have no time at all for the political class. In fact, I’d go further and state I despise and distrust them on sight.

When the news broke recently that Jeremy Paxman was bowing out of his role as anchor presenter of Newsnight, several of the profiles on him mentioned his avowed approach to interviewing politicians [‘Why is this lying bastard lying to me?’], although I understand that Paxo himself denies that he ever actually said it. Nevertheless, I’m sure I’m not the only one who had a flash of self-recognition – or possibly “I wish I’d said that” – when reading it.

I’m in the strange position that I enjoy observing politics in action – I try to catch Prime Minister’s Question Time on Wednesdays in the House of Commons, I am a devotee of the BBC’s Daily Politics show, I’d watch David Dimbleby’s Question Time if only I could stay up that late – but, whenever a politician or political spin-doctor speaks or is interviewed, as Winston Churchill might have said, an ‘iron curtain’ filter metaphorically descends in front of my eyes and my brain fills inexorably fills with naked cynicism, in the style of water was being let into a diving chamber from below. I cannot quite identify why this happens, but I do know that I feel much more comfortable having adopted this defensive mechanism.

Yesterday, before jumping on a motor mower and spending the morning attempting to reduce the meadow before me to a billiard table in the first bright sunshine of the summer, I watched the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, featuring in its main interview Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

With due defence and apologies to any Lib-Dem voters out there, for me Clegg epitomises – to a greater extent than most – everything that is ‘wrong’ about British politicians. In recent times, the only thing I am prepared to hold my hand up and respect him for was his decision to take on UKIP’s Nigel Farage in those TV debates. Nobody else felt able to.

For all I know, it’s perfectly possible that if you fell into conversation with Nick Clegg across a dinner party table – or on a hiking holiday, or simply sitting next to him on a train – you’d walk away listing him as a bona fide good egg and ‘impressive’.

It’s just that, for me, by his oratory style and personality, he comes across as a stereotypical member of the British political class.

Through a combination of innate talent and/or hard work, Clegg has mastered the difficult art of appearing to be ‘leadership material’ and yet, by some people’s yardsticks, also a man of the people.

It’s a difficult skill to master, rather like the magical presence that a great actor can create when holding the stage (and the audience) in the palm of his or her hand. In most cases, when both politicians and actors are holding forth, they’re speaking someone else’s words – or themes that they’ve learned by rote – and yet, by force of persuasion, they are capable of convincing the audience.

[Note that I said ‘capable of convincing’ – I did not mean in the above sentence that they are always successful.]

Clegg projects as ‘a pretty open sort of guy’, albeit one with a hint of reserved, favourite teacher-style, condescension that implies (of course) he knows better than those he is speaking to.

He also has an extravagant way of using his hands – often both at the same time – to make or emphasise a point he is making. I’ve always regarded too much hand-waving as a ‘device’ and accordingly routinely downgrade my acceptance of anything being said by someone doing an impression of a traffic cop outside the Colosseum in Rome.

Yesterday, Marr did his best to put to Mr Clegg the points that all the polls were showing that the Lib-Dems were facing major embarrassment in this week’s MEP elections and did he feel that he’d got things (viz. the Lib-Dem policies and tactics) wrong?

Clegg 2Clegg was having none of it. He absolutely refused to address either question.

Instead, he deflected the ‘polls’ issue by responding that, of course, polls are one thing but what really matters was how electors actually vote … and he was confident that this Thursday there’d be a very different result – “Let us wait and see”.

[Talk about kicking the issue into the long grass!].

On the ‘Have you – the Lib-Dems – got your tactics wrong?’ question, he said no. They were the only party advocating staying in the EU and the others were flip-flopping all over the place.

Clegg was in favour of a straight ‘In-Out’ referendum, but only the next time that EU ‘progress’ requires the conceding of further powers to the EU by its member states. In general you had to be in the EU to reform it, so in Clegg’s view is that it would be totally wrong to leave (impact upon British jobs, its position in the world etc.).

So, let me summarise:

[By the way, for the record, I have no personal position on the EU referendum concept or its outcome].

Clegg is in favour of EU reform [translation: to say otherwise would risk political fall-out in the UK]. He’s also in favour of a referendum [translation: to say otherwise would risk political fall-out in the UK]. But he’s also absolutely convinced that the UK should stay in the EU, because he knows it would be to the UK’s advantage.

I’d like to put it to Mr Clegg that he’s no more and no less duplicitous than any other political leader and the only reason he’s supporting the prospect of having a referendum on the EU is because [yes, you got there before me] it would be electoral suicide in Britain to say different.

After all, if he’s so convinced it would be wrong for the UK to exit the EU – from a purely pragmatic and honest point of view – why risk letting the electorate vote in favour of doing so?

I’ll tell you why.

Clegg has to go along with the notion that the voter is king because he lives in a supposedly ‘democratic’ society. Let us be honest. Although they must pay lip service to the principle of democracy, in fact elections are an irritating inconvenience to politicians. The only reason they submit themselves to the ordeal of electioneering, and the risk of being rejected by the voters, is the fact that – in Western society – it’s the only way to get into parliament … and power. Which is all they’re interested in.

The rest is cant.




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About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts