I’ve finally got around to watching Thursday night’s Question Time Lib Dem leadership hustings. Not much for me to add that hasn’t already been said by so many others. It was no knock out, but the clear consensus (which I agree with) is that Huhne won on points although Clegg recovered well in the second half. In the interests of balance though, I have to agree with Aaron Heath at Liberal Conspiracy: Huhne’s tie should be tried at the Hague for crimes against humanity.
I’m always being told that Huhne is boring and dry. He wasn’t on Thursday. He managed to combine passion and principle with clarity and intellect. Even at his best, Clegg only really scored highly on the first two.
I’m beginning to think that it may be TV that will do for Clegg. What’s clear is that while people like myself have been quick to point out that he’s a media star, it’s the newspapers – not the broadcasters – who are saying that. The Guardian has come out for him this weekend, but failed to come up with a good reason why. Apparently he is “fluent” – well, he hasn’t been fluent in either of his major TV tests so far, unless that fluency is in waffle.
Paradoxically, while the print media is more biased it can also be more forgiving of politicians’ shortcomings. Fluff a line in a newspaper interview and the journalist will always accept your second “take”. Fluff a line on live television on the other hand and it’s there for all to see. Steve Richards, newspaper journalist would never have exposed Nick Clegg in the way that Steve Richards, television interviewer did without even trying.
Clegg must surely realise this. Why then did he allow himself to get blindsided by Dimbleby’s interjection about an article he wrote during the last leadership election when he accused Huhne of opportunism. Surely there’s someone on his campaign team working on rebuttal? Like the tax fluff the week before, this should have been swatted away with ease.
Indeed, it is interesting to watch how Clegg dealt with Dimblebum: in short he didn’t. While Huhne was always quick to interject and get the last word (with those “sharp elbows” of his he was telling us about last week) and treated Dimblebum as a steam roller would a bicycle, Clegg kept listening to him, getting steered off course.
Daniel Finklestein is at least one print journalist for whom the penny is starting to drop:
Clegg is an intelligent and charming man, which is why journalists generally like him, but he seemed lightweight and uncomfortable last night. He hadn’t very good lines to take and his position on Trident (almost the only substantive thing he said) is incoherent.
This is serious stuff for Nick Clegg. Being “telegenic” has up until now been his biggest USP. It isn’t any more. He’d better manage to knock up something bloody spectacular on the Politics Show later today or his big mo will start to sink like a stone.
Incidentally, I notice that the Scott Press has started claiming that this election is a contest between a social democrat and a liberal. All I can say to that is that as someone who was arguing earlier this week for the party to put more emphasis on taxing income less and wealth more, and who is very conscious of the fact that the candidate closest to my own view on this is Chris Huhne, I was pleased to see the Guardian remind everyone this weekend that this position has at least one high profile exponent: J. S. Mill.