Clegg: “My kids don’t know I smoke, so please don’t tell them”

The Deputy PM on AV, broken promises, emotion and the dreaded weed.

There are some interesting nuggets in Andrew Rawnsley's interview with Nick Clegg in this morning's Observer. Rawnsley himself picks out Clegg's comments on the AV referendum for his own column – David Cameron and George Osborne panicked that a Yes vote would cause trouble with the Tory right and so decided to "throw the kitchen sink" at keeping the current electoral system – but some of the softer, more human, stuff is likely to get greater pick-up.

As we discovered with Jemima Khan's recent interview with the Deputy PM, it's the personal, not the political, that intrigues – "Why are the students angry with you, Papa?" and "he cries regularly to music" compelled in a way that Clegg's views on the Arab spring did not.

In the same vein, take this exchange on Clegg's well-known smoking habit:

Is he still smoking? "A little bit." That sounds like the sort of fib people tell to their doctors or partners. How much is a little bit? "Not much. No, not much. Three. Maybe three. Sometimes four. I never have smoked that much. I smoke only in the evenings, out of sight, when the children are asleep."

They don't know he smokes?

"No, no. So please don't tell them."

You hide in the garden?

"Yes, I hide in the garden. No, hide is the wrong verb. I cower. I cower."

Miriam gives him a hard time about his habit. Has he tried to quit? "Not much. Not right now." He pulls a face which begs for mercy. "Can I please have one little private sin which I can keep to myself?"

As Rawnsley notes, a "less open and more artful politician would have not allowed himself to be drawn into conversation about his smoking". This candidness – the anti-politician – was part of the Clegg charm that worked so well a year ago.

That it works less well 12 months on is, of course, more to do with what voters perceive as his broken promises. The central motif for this has been the picture of Clegg holding a large "No to tuition fees increase" pledge card. But perhaps this party political broadcast, from 13 April 2010, sums up the sense of betrayal best, featuring as it does a high-minded Clegg declaring "an end to broken promises and the beginning of a new hope".

If you want to know how Lib Dem HQ feels about this broadcast, try to embed the official version on to your own blog. You can't. "Embedding disabled by request," YouTube tells us.

No prizes for guessing why.

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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Pity the Premier League – so much money can get you into all sorts of bother

You’ve got to feel sorry for our top teams. It's hard work, maintaining their brand.

I had lunch with an old girlfriend last week. Not old, exactly, just a young woman of 58, and not a girlfriend as such – though I have loads of female friends; just someone I knew as a girl on our estate in Cumbria when she was growing up and I was friendly with her family.

She was one of many kind, caring people from my past who wrote to me after my wife died in February, inviting me to lunch, cheer up the poor old soul. Which I’ve not been. So frightfully busy.

I never got round to lunch till last week.

She succeeded in her own career, became pretty well known, but not as well off financially as her husband, who is some sort of City whizz.

I visited her large house in the best part of Mayfair, and, over lunch, heard about their big estate in the West Country and their pile in Majorca, finding it hard to take my mind back to the weedy, runny-nosed little girl I knew when she was ten.

Their three homes employ 25 staff in total. Which means there are often some sort of staff problems.

How awful, I do feel sorry for you, must be terrible. It’s not easy having money, I said, managing somehow to keep back the fake tears.

Afterwards, I thought about our richest football teams – Man City, Man United and Chelsea. It’s not easy being rich like them, either.

In football, there are three reasons you have to spend the money. First of all, because you can. You have untold wealth, so you gobble up possessions regardless of the cost, and regardless of the fact that, as at Man United, you already have six other superstars playing in roughly the same position. You pay over the odds, as with Pogba, who is the most expensive player in the world, even though any halfwit knows that Messi and Ronaldo are infinitely more valuable. It leads to endless stresses and strains and poor old Wayne sitting on the bench.

Obviously, you are hoping to make the team better, and at the same time have the luxury of a whole top-class team sitting waiting on the bench, who would be desired by every other club in Europe. But the second reason you spend so wildly is the desire to stop your rivals buying the same players. It’s a spoiler tactic.

Third, there’s a very modern and stressful element to being rich in football, and that’s the need to feed the brand. Real Madrid began it ten years or so ago with their annual purchase of a galáctico. You have to refresh the team with a star name regularly, whatever the cost, if you want to keep the fans happy and sell even more shirts round the world each year.

You also need to attract PROUD SUPPLIERS OF LAV PAPER TO MAN CITY or OFFICIAL PROVIDER OF BABY BOTTLES TO MAN UNITED or PARTNERS WITH CHELSEA IN SUGARY DRINK. These suppliers pay a fortune to have their product associated with a famous Premier League club – and the club knows that, to keep up the interest, they must have yet another exciting £100m star lined up for each new season.

So, you can see what strains and stresses having mega money gets them into, trying to balance all these needs and desires. The manager will get the blame in the end when things start to go badly on the pitch, despite having had to accommodate some players he probably never craved. If you’re rich in football, or in most other walks in life, you have to show it, have all the required possessions, otherwise what’s the point of being rich?

One reason why Leicester did so well last season was that they had no money. This forced them to bond and work hard, make do with cheapo players, none of them rubbish, but none the sort of galáctico a super-Prem club would bother with.

Leicester won’t repeat that trick this year. It was a one-off. On the whole, the £100m player is better than the £10m player. The rich clubs will always come good. But having an enormous staff, at any level, is all such a worry for the rich. You have to feel sorry . . .

Hunter Davies’s “The Beatles Book” is published by Ebury

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories