Clegg has nothing to lose and much to gain from his phone-in show

The Lib Dem leader should use his new LBC radio slot to give his critics both barrels.

It's 10 O’Clock Thursday morning, and the interweb and chatterati are abuzz with Nick Clegg going off on one, in his first live phone-in programme on LBC.

"I've been listening to a broadcast that's disgusting, that's being run in a way that's despicable, vile, repugnant," the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told host Nick Ferrari during a live radio show on Thursday morning. "I've heard theories that are distorted and far from the truth. I've seen a reconstruction of reality that's the opposite of the truth." And he finished up by calling the whole programme ‘a whorehouse’.

It probably won’t happen. But then, Nick Clegg’s no Silvio Berlusconi, is he? Of course, that’s not an entirely bad thing. But if there’s one thing Mr Berlusconi is good at, it’s how to use the media to make a splash - as the above quote demonstrates. It’s what he actually told TV host Gad Lerner last year when he saw a programme he really didn’t like – and called in to let them know, live on air…

Now most people who’ve seen Nick in action fairly regularly will tell you that he doesn’t especially mind telling you exactly what he thinks - in quite bald terms. It can be quite unsettling if you’re used to the bland emollients of the normal political interaction with the public.

So might I suggest that Thursday morning’s show – and every subsequent edition of ‘call Nick Clegg’ – might go rather better than expected if he disregards the normal conventions of the political discourse with the public, and gives folk both barrels instead. After all, I suspect not many of those ringing in are likely to be on the line congratulating Nick on what a fabulous job he’s done – LBC would see that as rather poor radio.

So if callers are aggressive - get on the front foot, Nick. When the left give you a kicking, remind them what a fine job Labour did on the economy. When the Tories blame you for all the pernicious right-wing fantasy policies they’d like to enact but can’t, stick it to them.

Frankly – there’s nothing to lose, and quite a lot to gain. And I guarantee everyone would listen.

Nick Clegg will take questions from LBC radio listeners each Thursday. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Picture: ANDRÉ CARRILHO
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Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left