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19 September 2011

My 40 minutes with Nick Clegg

How did it go? I haven't decided yet. It would be nice to get the voters to say even that.

By Richard Morris

Sunday morning in Birmingham and I find myself in a executive suite 6 with three other bloggers and Nick Clegg.

There are numerous occasions when a politician would favour the company of some enthusiastic amateurs over a bunch of seasoned professionals (just ask George Osborne), but an on-the-record interview from four bloggers eager to get him to provide click bait probably isn’t one of them. On the fair assumption that none of us know what we’re doing, this could go badly wrong.

Nick, however, shows no sign of nerves.

The joy of all party conferences is, of course, the fact that you can button-hole MPs in the queue for Starbucks, and demand answers to any question you fancy. And unless they want to miss out on their skinny decaf latte, or Michael Crick happens to be standing behind you, they don’t have much option but to answer.

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But spending quality time with the party leader in a locked room and a brief to “ask me anything” is a rare treat.

The problem with a brief like that is: where do you jump first? Macro-philosophical issues or the minutiae of policy? The smorgasbord of delights that is the coalition agreement, or what I should say to the people on the doorstep who have stopped smiling benignly when I say I’m a Lib Dem and started spitting instead? Should I pass on the message my kids have given me for Nick about university funding, or would that be rude? Fortunately, someone else asks the tuition fees question first. It’s still raw in the party, you know. As it should be.

We cover a lot of ground. Only some of the contents of Nick’s speech on Thursday is taken off the table. My bear traps remain unsprung. Nick says he doesn’t know enough about the police using the Official Secrets Act against Guardian journalists to comment — but that anything that restricts journalist from getting to the truth makes him uncomfortable. And yes, he does read blogs from time to time. So we can’t write “Clegg ignores the online activists”.

A quick discourse on Labour vitriol, a photo for Lib Dem Voice and we’re back in the corridor. We’ve been with Nick for 40 minutes.

Later, Hugh Grant gets 10. I own Hugh Grant.

I spot Chris Fox, the LIb Dem Chief Exec, who asks “how did it go?”

The honest answer is, “I haven’t decided yet”.

Be nice if we get the voters to say even that.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which has been named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.