Tuesday, January 05, 2010

When 'Won't' Doesn't Work

Nick Clegg was doing rather well in an interview this morning with Nicky Campbell until he was bowled an unexpected ball.

Give me one thing you like about Gordon Brown, asked Nicky. Not going to said Nick. It's not about personalities. Twice more, he was offered the chance to say something positive about the PM. Twice more he refused. OK, then said Nicky, say something nice about Labour values. Nick Clegg then proceeded to say how he used to think Labour had good intentions but now he doesn't. They then went through the same process about David Cameron.

By this time Nicky Campbell wasn't even trying to hide his contempt. "We've been sold a pig in a poke. I though the LibDems were all about positive politics." Clegg whined: "Well you pushed me into a corner."

And that's the difference between Clegg and Cameron. Cameron would never have allowed himself to be pushed like that. He would have answered the question in the first place.

It would have been so easy for Clegg to pay tribute to Gordon Brown's family life or something like that. He would have looked magnanimous. Instead he appeared petulant - something not unusual in Clegg interviews, as I have pointed out before.

If he really believes the election is not a beauty parade of three leaders, as he said in this morning's interview, why has he agreed to take part in TV debates with the other two leaders?

But there's a lesson for interviewers here too. If you ask politicians questions they expect, don't be surprised if they provide the expected answers. But the unexpected question will invariably provide a revealing response.


NeilMc said...

But Iain, whilst Clegg is weak, there's no use pretending that Cameron's much better. He squirms and reneges on every announcement. He vaccilates, obfuscates and U turns.

The electorate are starting to wonder whether he actually wants to win the election or was just being the Tory leader enough. Right now he is in danger of losing and condeming this country to five more years of the worst government of all time.

Speak with him please.

golden_balls said...

I don't think Brown would have answered any differently he can be awkward in personal situations.

Cameron as you say would have done rather well milked the question and shown how"nice" he is.

Mark Senior said...

Now yesterday's news was dominated by Cameron's gaff and U turn on married couples tax allowances . Iain Dale loyal as ever , ignores the real story and trys to manufacture an anti Nick Clegg story out of tissue paper .

Stepney said...

Sorry, Nick who?

andrew said...

But this is the sort of politics the general public hates with a passion.

Take the previous speaker. He was clearly incompetent and way out of his depth. Yet on the day of his sacking/retirement, MPs from both sides of the House lined up to compliment him. And then he was given a peerage for his pains!

Whereas Sirralan should've been summoned to tell him 'yer fired' and he could have slunk back to Glasgow in shame. Without the peerage!

Most people would struggle to find anything nice to say about Gordon Brown. Unless it involves extreme violence and the rough end of a pineapple.

Anonymous said...

Do you really WANT him to lie about someone he feels contemptous of? Do you want Cameron to do that? Do you think that actually sways voters?

golden_balls said...

He is a Tory after all no offence iain.

if you think this blog is partisan just wait till the election is called.

JMB said...

Didn't he fall into a similar trap on the Today programme this morning? I was not awake enough to remember and he does tend to send you back to sleep.

Windsor Tripehound said...

"Nick Clegg was doing rather well"?

Clegg increasingly sounds like a petulant child; "It's not fair, It's not fair!"

And Mark Senior criticises ID for blind loyalty. Pot, kettle, black Mr Senior?

Unsworth said...

"But there's a lesson for interviewers here too. If you ask politicians questions they expect, don't be surprised if they provide the expected answers. But the unexpected question will invariably provide a revealing response."

Well, not too sure about 'invariably', but anyway, that's not the game is it? Far too many 'interviewers' are content to be complicit in the long game of co-operation with politicians and political advisors. I suppose the most recent and obvious example is that of Expenses, but there are many others.

Take a look at the Kate Garroways of this world - people like Toenails, McGuire, Sian Williams, Bill Turnbull, Suzanna Reid, Kate Silverton, Fiona Phillips, etc. Not one of them displays any intellectual rigour - or impartiality. The same could certainly be said of the Kirsty Warks of this world.

This is political news as showbiz. I regret the passing of the long interview. Robin Day and his contemporaries were skilled inquisitors, even David Frost had his moments. We're victims of the deliberate dumbing down, the reductio ad absurdum of political debate, where serious concerns are trashed to the levels of the two minute weather forecast - which in itself has been turned into pantomime.

And that is the problem for the Conservatives. The nation's finances are in real trouble. If you really want to understand these rather important matters you're going to have to spend rather more than ninety seconds scrutinising the balance sheet. The best we can hope for is that some of this terrifying detail eventually filters through to the couch potatoes and the client electorate.

You're right, Cameron would have been more agile and adept, but there's more to life than Nicky Campbell. At least, I do hope so.

pete-s said...

If Clegg had said anything positive about McDoom then he would quite rightly be accused of lying.

Newmania said...

Truth is that Nick Clegg cannot deliver his Party to a Conservative coalition so he is , in effect Brown`s poodle .

Fifth Pact anyone ?

Rex said...

Why Oh why are the Tories letting Labour get away with their stonewalling on how they are going to deal with the big deficit.

Surely both Clegg and Cameron should be piling into Brown at every opportunity for them to reveal the facts and how THEY intend to deal with it after the next election instead of offering "Aunt Sally's" for nulab to scrutinise and mock.

Newsnight was a bit of an eyeopener when the labour finance spokesman admitted he didn't know the state of the countries finances.

Here's a slogan for the tories next poster.
"GORDON BROWN Tell us what YOU intend to do to reduce the DEBT MOUNTAIN"

Robert said...

Cameron would have done much better. Then so would Blair.

tapestry said...

Clegg is a well balanced individual.

He has a chip on both shoulders.

Sinbad the sailor said...

What else do you expect from an estate agent?

Gazza's UsefulTips and Blog said...

Clegg was rubbish. No two ways about it, despite all this stuff about the Tories and Labour not talking straight well neither did he. Useless.

As for Cameron yesterday, he was just being flexible. Haha.

talwin said...

Pay tribute to Brown's family life? Christ, is that it? That's like paying tribute to someone for being 46, eating cornflakes, or getting dressed in the morning.

Not that I count for much but there is nothing I like about Gordon Brown. Honestly. And according to GQ (and many others) he doesn't even succeed in getting dressed (properly) in the morning.

Anonymous said...

If he really believes the election is not a beauty parade of three leaders, as he said in this morning's interview, why has he agreed to take part in TV debates with the other two leaders

So you are explicitly saying that the television debates are a mere "beauty parade" with no depth, no relationship to policy and no value beyond letting the electorate see who is prettiest.

I've got to say, Iain, that for a man who aspires to parliament, you have been painfully superficial in your political analyses lately, abandoning true politics and policy in favour of superficial glitter and Blair-style fake smiles.

I hope this is merely a consequence of seasonal indulgence and not a sign of the direction you will be taking this year. In either case, if you really are serious about getting a seat, you need to take a cold hard look at posts like this and posts like the one about Brown's inability to "speak to people's hearts" and change how you do business.

Man in a Shed said...

This is going to be the real frustration with this election - cutting through the spin, prepared answers, party lines and general disinformation type answer ( see Liam Byrne on Newsnight last night for a prime example ).

Anonymous said...

He would have answered the question in a positive "cast iron" no messing way.

Dave W said...


you must have been watching and reading completely different news (Labour Party briefings don't count as news).

Anonymous said...

Would it be easier if his "aides" did the interviews thus cutting out the need for corrections.

Twig said...

He had choice of telling the truth, lying or refusing to answer.

Telling the truth would have been impolite, telling a lie would be wrong so he tried to avoid giving an answer. What's wrong with that?

As you rightly say, Cameron would have given a fake answer otherwise known as a "white lie" (which is still a lie).

Mark Senior said...

Times " Cameron stumbles over marriage tax breaks "
Guardian " Cameron error gives Labour first blood "
Mail " David Cameron restates marriage tax vow after prompting confusion over new policy "
Sky News " Tax breaks for Married Couples - Confusion as David Cameron sugests he " cannot guarantee tax breaks "
Financial Times " Cameron gaffe on marriage tax break "
A typical selection of today's news stories .
Now Dave W - which news and press have you been watching and reading ?

Delbert Wilkins said...

This ties in nice earlier with Max Atkinson's post yesterday. His thesis is that interviews with politicians almost never end positively and that they should re-employ the old tactic of relying on speeches to propagate a message. It's an interesting thought.


Osama the Nazarene said...

I heard Clegg being interviewed this morning and thought the opposite to you. It doesn't help that I'm biased and intensely dislike Campbell but my thought was what a stupid question?

Clegg does not get as much air time as the other major party leaders and to have to spend time singing the praises of Brown (or Cameron) is undoubtedly a waste of time FOR HIM. As a voter I want continued confirmation that in the event of a hung parliament where the Tories are the largest party his MPs will not support the discredited dithering Brown. More clarity on these issues is required and not dumbed down beauty contest questions!

Osama the Nazarene said...

Anon @11:01 - agreed, I've noticed the same tendency in this blog pre and post Xmas.

Fluffy bunnies rather than hard policy.

Oh and Cameron did start dithering on the married couples allowances yesterday AND it was picked up by Al Jahbeeba as the top item on the 10 o'clock news. Hardly good for the Tories.

judith said...

Am I alone in thinking it was a silly question in the first place?

Why couldn't the answer be 'I'm here to talk about the LibDems'?

Anonymous said...

Now Dave really is the "Gaffer".

LIttle Richardjohn said...

Truly desperate.
The fantasy Cameron would have done this... The fantasy Cameron would have done that..
The real Cameron would have done nothing to rescue the banks in 2008, with disasrous consequences, and will do everything possible to scupper the economy if he ever gets in power.
Doing nothing and leaving everything to the markets is no longer an option, as he will find out is the British public is daft enough to elect him and his gang of teenagers.

Dick the Prick said...

Not going to, so there - derbrain! Ah, nostalgia - not like it used to be.

Shamik said...

Now that was a fun interview! That's why I listen to 5Live in the morning not Today! A bit more humour and fizz from Nicky Campbell than Naughtie and Humphreys.

Idle Pen Pusher said...

"Cameron would never have allowed himself to be pushed like that. He would have answered the question in the first place."

Let me get this straight, Cameron would have remained in control by not daring to disobey?

Plato said...

Iain - I winced when Campbell got Clegg on the ropes and sounded even more school boyish.

It was a total car crash of an interview and I'm really surprised he [or any other politico] would cock up something as easy as 'say something nice' about another politician.

He could have said almost anything vacuous along apple pie lines, but no - idiot.

Anonymous said...

He could have said "I like that he is leader of the Labour party as anyone else would do it so much better!"

Captain Scarlett said...

This is only the start of the pre election campaign and I am already bored out of my brains.

If Cameron wins the election would the last person please turn the lights out.

Dave W said...

Mark Senior -look up the words "dominated" and "yesterday" in the dictionary!

Campaign for Public Ownership said...

I want the commanding heights of the economy nationalized.

David Lindsay said...

Poor Nick Clegg. In the coming hung Parliament, the coalition will be between Labour and the Tories, as quite routinely in local government, and as in Germany until fairly recently, both for the same reason.

Their overdue merger will follow, leading to the re-emergence of alternative, proper parties that stand for specific things, and those in tune with public opinion. So, not the Lib Dems, as a party, then.

Clegg expects to be asked whom he would support in a hung Parliament, so that he can appear clever and important by giving no answer. But in reality, no one is going to ask him the question, anyway. In which case, what is he for?

Norfolk Blogger said...

Iain, This is vaccuous crap.

Yesterday Cameron was asked a straight question, changed Tory policy then had to reverse what he said a few minutes later. you hailed this on Radio Five as some sort of triumph. Then you try to attack Nick Clegg for less.

I know you are obsessed with attacking the Lib Dems, but this is ridiculous.

sarah said...

I think Dale's description of Clegg is spot on. Clegg, and the lib dems, cannot cope with proper scrutiny. that's their biggest selling point as a third party. they put one policy forward - the absurd mansion tax - and it fell to pieces in less than a day.

I also think the media obsession with a hung parliament is getting increasingly hysterical.

Back to Clegg - a humourless, pompous lightweight.

Bird said...

Clegg was a mistaken choice for the LibDems, just as Brown was for Labour.
Smug old git Cable should have got the job.
Clegg was chosen because his colleagues thought he was another Cameron.
Big mistake. The LibDem leader has nice hair, but he comes across as tense, angry and peevish.
Has anyone ever seen him smile or crack a joke?

tris said...

I'm not a Liberal supporter by any manner, but it was a stupid question. I'm not sure who Nikki Campbell is, I'm assuming Radio 2? Clegg did quite well on the Today programme.

It's not about whether Clegg likes Brown. It's not our business. Frankly I don't think there is anything anywhere to like about Brown. He's despicable. I don't know about his family life. And why should he. I know that Brown tragically lost a child. The most awful thing that can happen to a parent. Why would Clegg know anything personal about him?

"Guppy" Honaker said...

As the rule with trial lawyers, never ask a question you don't already know what the answer will be!
- David

Aloe Vera 101

Mark Senior said...

Norfolk Blogger ,
You must allow for Iain's pro Conservative bent . He can hardly cover the main story of the day which was the appallingly bad press that Cameron and his Marriage Tax U Turns received in the press and other media .
To keep some semblance of a serious political blog , he had to come out with the drivel in this thread .
As Nick Clegg's personal ratings continue to be better than Cameron's , the LibDems clearly made the right choice as leader .

Thatsnews said...

But that has always been the problem with the Liberals. They are probably very nice people in their personal lives but, politically speaking, they are nasty, odious and quite vile.

Max Atkinson said...

The most hilarious example of a politician refusing to say whether he liked his opponent was in 1974, when Edward Heath declined (three times) to answer David Frost's question about whether or not he liked Harold Wilson.

You can inspect the video clip at http://maxatkinson.blogspot.com/2009/04/tory-leaders-three-evasive-answers-to.html