Last Friday night, the Deputy Prime Minister of Great Britain appeared on what is variously described as “a gang show” “a chat show” and “an anarchic late night comedy show”. I host that show, and I witnessed first-hand what few thought would happen.
Nick Clegg did well. Really well. I mean, really, really well.
Twitter – a medium recently described by the Australian Prime Minister as electronic graffiti – was overwhelmingly positive. Some tweeps said they would now vote for Nick Clegg, others said they now liked him, and a few said simply: “I would”.
What do I think led to this turnaround?
Simple. He didn’t talk bullshit. More to the point, he wasn’t allowed to talk bullshit.
On the advice of former spin-doctor Alistair Campbell, our own barely-trained Alex Brooker sexed up the interview by using a “bullshit buzzer”. Whenever The Deputy PM defaulted to political double speak, or avoided a question, Alex bashed a buzzer that said quite loudly “Bullshit.”
And it worked. After a bit of banter, during which the leader of the Lib Dems said, “I think these questions are – ” then hit the buzzer, Alex got down to the questions. And the DPM avoided them. At first.
Then Alex asked this:
“On a scale of one to ten, where one is ‘couldn’t give a stuff’ and ten is ‘literally can’t sleep at night’ how shitty do you feel about what you did to tuition fees?”
It drew a cheer and applause from the audience.
The DPM answered “I’m not the Prime Minister, so I can’t do everything I want”
The buzzer was pounded: “Bullshit.”
“I only have nine per cent of MPs in parliament”
Alex repeated the question: “On a scale of one to ten, how shitty do you feel?”
Then the unthinkable happened. Nick Clegg said “Nine and a half”
The man that many consider a liar for claiming he would never vote for tuition fees, admitted he felt bad about those fees being introduced. Not just bad, a nine and half out of ten bad.
Watch Nick Clegg attempting to avoid “bullshit”. Video: YouTube/The Last Leg
Then the even more unthinkable happened – the audience applauded. And in its own way, so did Twitter.
The guy who 30 seconds earlier was being jeered for going back on his promise was now being lauded for feeling bad about it.
If only he had thought to do that earlier. Like, years earlier.
A similar thing happened later in the interview when Alex gave the DPM thirty seconds to convince him to vote. Not to vote for the Lib Dems, just to vote. For anyone.
Clegg started by asking Alex what issues were important for him.
Nope, said Alex, I don’t want questions. You need to give me answers.
Again the DPM tried to find out what is important to Alex.
The DPM ploughed on. “If you’re concerned about the NHS, if you’re concerned about the economy, if you’re concerned about . . . ”
“Fine then,” Clegg blurted, “if you go to Nando’s and get someone else to go up to the counter and order for you, you can’t complain if they come back with a meal you don’t want.”
Now, I don’t know if Nick Clegg had planned to end with that analogy, if he had it up his sleeve in case of an emergency, or whether through exasperation the Deputy Prime Minister blurted out the first thing that came into his head. The point is, it worked.
It was the single best description of the value of voting I’ve ever heard. And according to the electronic wall of scribble known as Twitter, it was a very convincing one. And all because there was no bullshit.
In a world where the overwhelming feeling among voters, young and old, is that “they’re all as bad as each other” and more often “they all talk such rubbish” perhaps “not talking bullshit” could be a revolutionary tactic for politicians.
Because we want them to be real. We want them to talk to us. Actually to us.
Maybe more politicians should use the bullshit buzzer when they prepare for interviews. Because people aren’t stupid. We know there are economic trials, we know there are harsh realities of Government, and we know sometimes tough times call for tough measures.
We also know when someone is talking bullshit. And we appreciate it when they don’t.
Adam Hills presents The Last Leg on Channel 4