In this week’s New Statesman, our guest editor, Jemima Khan, interviewed Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. She found him to be “an honest, straightforward man in a dishonest, unstraightforward world, in which nobody can say what they really think”. But how did Fleet Street’s columnists feel about him after reading the interview?
Poor Nick Clegg, you’ve got to feel for him after his admission that the way he’s portrayed by the media makes him miserable.
“I’m a human being, I’m not a punchbag – I’ve got feelings” he said, before admitting that he cries regularly to music. Maybe it’s time he was treated with more respect. After all, if we had a full-blown Tory government, we’d all be crying regularly – music or not.
Richard Bacon, the Sun
In an interview in the New Statesman, Nick Clegg says that people on the streets often say encouraging things to him but tend to whisper it “as if it’s a guilty secret saying anything nice about Nick Clegg”.
Nick, I’m not whispering – I am a leading, substitute columnist in the country’s biggest paper and I intend to say something nice about you right now.
Here goes: “I think you look like a young Peter Jones off Dragons’ Den and he’s easily the most handsome of the Dragons (although James Caan was more handsome in an Omar Sharif type of way, but he doesn’t do the show any more).”
Actually, the peculiar Prince of Punchbags that Clegg has become is painful to watch. He cries to music, he informs Jemima Khan in an interview for the New Statesman. He has feelings, you know. He has more to cry about than music. Everything he touches is now somehow tainted with that fatal compromise. When he talks about his own privilege and is simply trying to be honest, it backfires.
Nick Clegg weeps when he hears music. I weep when I hear Nick Clegg. This epic of self-pity, this querulous, whining fantasist who thinks he is the second most significant person in our politics: what did we do to deserve him? He symbolises how the Lib Dem dream of government was a nightmare: how once you get into power you must take decisions, all of which upset somebody.
It’s his party and he can cry if he wants to: Nick Clegg, according to this week’s New Statesman, listens to classical music in the evening and sometimes cries. Good for him. As a hinterland for a Liberal leader, that is healthier than Gladstone’s search for fallen women, or Asquith’s perpetual games of bridge. There’s nothing weak about letting music enter the soul.
In a jaw-dropping interview, Nick Clegg admits he lies to his family about how hated he is. He also says promising to scrap tuition fees was not a manifesto priority. How then does he explain the personally signed open letter on Lib Dem election literature in which he vowed that his top “key policy” priority in education was: “scrapping university tuition fees”. Clearly, it’s not just his family he lies to.
Oh dear. Nick Clegg has had another Shylock moment, bewailing his lot to the New Statesman. Has a Lib Dem not hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? “If you prick us,” he wails, “do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?” The short answer is no, not if you are a minority leader in a coalition. Then you are lower than a cur.
What a difference a year makes. This week will mark the anniversary of the first of the television debates that enlivened the general election and turned Nick Clegg into the golden boy of British politics. “I agree with Nick” was the catchphrase of the campaign. How sadly different from recent headlines, in response to the Deputy Prime Minister’s plea that he is a human being.
Contempt for the poor man has gone global. “Aw. Poor Nick Clegg. Cue the violins for the British Deputy Prime Minister,” were the opening words of the report yesterday in the Toronto newspaper the Globe and Mail.
Meanwhile, with Nick Clegg whining piteously about the agony of unpopularity, France awoke to the news that the fantastically unpopular Nicolas Sarkozy once physically threatened a journalist for writing impertinently of Carla Bruni’s sexual mores. All the man had done was counsel the tiny president against introducing his new wife to his sons, Barack Obama or any other attractive man. “The article is filth,” exploded the Napoleon reincarnate, “and I should smash your face in.”
If someone were to make an offensive suggestion about the lovely Miriam, Mr Clegg’s idea of the incandescent counterstrike would be to sit on the sofa sobbing in time with Schubert’s Impromptu No 3 in G flat major. Beware the man who cries easily: as Nora Ephron brilliantly observed, he cries only for himself.
Nick Clegg sometimes just listens to music and cries, he told Jemima Khan in an interview this week. We all know the feeling. Sometimes many of us just listen to Mr Clegg and cry, as I did earlier this week when, in conjunction with the still strangely invisible Iain Duncan Smith, he released a fine bubbling flatus on the subject of meritocracy.
Patrick O’Flynn, Daily Express
Mr Clegg is addicted to a self-image of a sincere man devoted to the national interest and to fairness. He is clearly unable to adjust to a situation where people distrust his motives and doubt his good faith.
“I am not a punchbag, I am a human being,” he pleaded to a celebrity interviewer this week, while complaining that his unpopularity had started to impinge upon his children.
Matt Chorley, Independent on Sunday
He has – apparently – become the most hated man in Britain and a “punchbag”, to use the phrase of the moment. Is it all perfect? No. Has Clegg won every battle? Of course not. But is it better he is there? Absolutely.
Paul Vallely, Independent on Sunday
“The distance seems to open up between who you really are and the portrayals that people impose on you,” Nick Clegg, in his recent interview, said of the reality of politics. The reality of music opens up a gap that is far more profound. The depth of possibility is what music plumbs in the human soul. But it can also shine a sudden light into the chasm between what we might have been and how far we have fallen short of our potential. That is why music makes us cry. Some of us, of course, have more to cry about than others.
Jenny McCartney, Sunday Telegraph
Nick hasn’t done himself any favours: his latest interview had more hostages to fortune than 1980s Beirut. He avowed that “I’m a human being, not a punchbag – I’ve got feelings” and confessed that members of the public whispered their support “as if it’s a guilty secret saying anything nice about Nick Clegg” (don’t make a habit of talking about yourself in the third person, Nick: that way madness lies) . . . Just because someone wants to know something, Nick, it doesn’t mean you have to tell them.
Fraser Nelson, News of the World
I’m not surprised Nick Clegg cries when listening to music. Especially if it is the opening theme to News At Ten.
Martin Ivens, Sunday Times (£)
Last week Nick Clegg drowned in Jemima Khan’s beautiful eyes and confessed to her in a New Statesman interview that he “cries regularly to music in the evening” and feels like “a punchbag” in the face of public anger towards him.
As his reward for revealing his vulnerable, sensitive side, Clegg was gleefully pummelled by Fleet Street all over again. From both the tabloids and the Labour-supporting prig press, the Deputy Prime Minister gets the coverage once “enjoyed” by Neil Kinnock . . . Nick must console himself with the thought that at least his enemies now take him seriously.