BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 19 NOV 2010


I like Nick Clegg. I know that is not a popular thing to say, but I do. I am very interested in politics but scunnered with the parties doing it. I am not objective (who is?) but like to think I can take a semi-detached view.

Both Cameron and Clegg, but Clegg especially, are trying to make coalition politics work. I like him for that, while conceding it is obviously in his self-interest to do his best. He seems to get such a hard time at least partly because the press in this country almost universally much prefer a two-party system: yah boo politics still rules.

I started liking him a lot when he burst onto the scene in the first leaders’ debate before the last election. My passion being what it is, and coming from a debating background, I knew a good performance when I saw one. In one evening he knocked Brown out and woke Cameron up.

But I have a problem reviewing this performance, having only seen a snatch of it on television. There seems to be no video record of it. It is not to be found anywhere: sort it, Lib Dems. Viewing the text I can tell you what I like: it is uncompromising, even though he knows much of the room is not with him he still goes for it. The narrative is good throughout, especially where it asks his fellow travellers to revel in what they have achieved in government. It’s a good list, he’s saying.

It is also content rich and reads well. In this regard David Cameron might want to find out who writes Clegg’s speeches as too often Cameron is all over the place. There are a good mix of stories and statistics, present party policy and evocative party history that brought in Gladstone and Lloyd George. The narrative around benefits, where he liberally (sorry) used both the carrot and the stick, has me nodding in agreement. In fact I nod in agreement at much of it. But he is a Lib Dem and at best maybe others will steal his stuff and use it as their own, because that’s what happens. Clegg does his best to rally the room and tell them to get real and get happy and get with it.

The peroration leans heavily on a piece of what is essentially poetry, from Jo Grimond. They are, of course, only words, but powerful words:

  • Things as they are means an economy for executives not ordinary workers
  • Things as they are means a bank system that bankrupts our economy
  • Things as they are means life chances being crushed by the fortunes of birth 
  • Things as they are means a tax system that hurts ordinary working families
  • Things are they are means a House of Lords stuffed with machine politicians   
  • Things as they are means political parties kow-towing to media moguls   
  • Things as they are just won’t do any more

So that’s the speech, what can be gleaned from the text at any rate.

But Clegg has done a few other things this year for the better. He spoke from behind the lectern rather than out on the stage; he wore a proper dark blue suit not an indigo one; he wore a dark, purplish, tie and not the yellow he sports too often. These things are important and worth a paragraph. The first thing the audience sees is how you are dressed and that makes up a good part of your gravitas.

David Cameron started a bit of a craze when he went out front very successfully and delivered an extempore speech to snatch the Tory leadership role from a leaden and wooden David Davis. It was a huge moment and I do think a masterstroke by Cameron. He also nailed his delivery on the day. I suspect, though, that he would have won had he delivered the same words from behind a lectern, so it’s not everything. Clegg looks more serious from behind the lectern, simple as that. And, in some ways, he actually wanted to set himself apart this year, to show that he is his own man, that he is the leader, that he has substance. A lectern can help with that.

I have never liked the less formal, and often lighter, suits Clegg wore and maybe still wears out and about. He should stop doing this. There is undoubtedly a sense that he does not want to look like a City “suit” and that’s fine. But he need not go for the chalk-stripe, red braces, suspenders, brougues and riding-crop (I made the riding-crop up…). A well-cut £400 or £500 quid dark blue or dark grey, self coloured without stripes but maybe with a herring-bone works just fine. Clegg is young, and young-looking, probably on account of all those lovely ladies he bedded in an earlier life. William Hague, by contrast, was more into multiple pints of ale and look at him now. He needs to appear as substantial as possible and the proper dark suit matters.

Yellow ties are not serious enough and in any event the colour itself does not generally suit pasty-faced northern Europeans. Yellows and greens should be worn with care in serious, corporate environments, especially if your skin-tone is not so much white as blue (you can take from that I’m saying they should not be worn at all.)

Clegg does the tie-off, shirt sleeves rolled up a bit better than Cameron, but as public school boys who wore their first DJ before they were out of short trousers it’s not a comfortable place for either of them to be. In any event, when you are the main event at a big conference your mantra should be “a little more conservative than you would like; a little more expensive than you can afford.” Of course, being a little more conservative than his party would like has got him into a bit of party trouble…


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