The Party Conference season so far has been memorable for politicians’ performances, rather than their policies. Ed Miliband’s speech will ironically be remembered for what he forgot (that small matter of the deficit), whereas the Prime Minister’s will be recalled for what he remembered with painful passion: taking his very sick child to be treated by the NHS.
Now it’s Nick Clegg’s turn. But if the Lib Dem leader’s performance at his conference this week is anything like his efforts on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, when he was interviewed by Mishal Husain, it too will be remembered for the wrong reasons.
Firstly, his tone is almost exclusively that of a rattled man. Of course he’s going to be put under pressure – it’s a journalist’s job to ask the challenging, difficult and penetrating questions the audience might want to put to a person who wishes to lead the country. But he sounds as though he takes the criticism personally.
Secondly, he comes across as a man with so much to say, but not enough time to say it. Yes, many broadcast interviews may only last a few minutes, but that’s the nature of the beast; live with it Mr Clegg. Less is more. Think lean cuisine, not political hot pot. He sounds as time-pressed as the white rabbit in Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland.
It’s this urge to make numerous points that seems to be at the heart of his stuttering verbal style – this is not some stammering speech impediment, but more likely his mouth not being able to keep up with his brain. Listeners must be left wondering, “If he stumbles so often over his words, might he stumble over the economy etc too?” He even answers before the question has finished – always a dangerous move, as the question may not be the one you anticipated.
Thirdly, he fails to handle Mishal Husain’s interruptions. Call us rude, but journalists will interrupt – perhaps because there’s a deadline to hit (think traffic report, sports bulletin etc..) or because there’s another key question that needs an answer or perhaps because we’ve heard enough obfuscation from the interviewee. Clegg insists on finishing his point (the right approach), but then gives up and answers the later question. Impression made? The man is easily distracted and fails to hold his ground.
So what should Nick Clegg do? Slow down, sound more measured and add more “light and shade,” instead of sounding hectored and on the defensive the whole time. A little pause speaks volumes in a media interview. He needs to stop trying to give us the entire buffet when we’d be happy with a few tasty dishes.
By contrast, whatever your view of their politics, Messrs Cameron and Farage manage to sound passionate, committed, at times jocular and frequently at ease. Clegg, on the other hand, sounds like his pants are on fire. The fact that Ed Miliband recently came across as the man who had forgotten to put his on, should not be a comfort to Clegg.
The final exchange of the Husain interview says it all: she’s not even finished thanking the Lib Dem leader before he responds with his own “Thank you”.
He sounds late, late, for a very important date…