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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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.