'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Thursday, 9 June 2011

There's nothing special about Nick Clegg. Not like that nice David Cameron.

Ahem. It would probably be best if I clarified fairly quickly what I'm getting at with the title of this post. And do read both halves to get the whole picture - there is cheering news for us Lib Dems at the end!

There is no doubt that 'Cleggophobia' is running rife across the media - we can argue til the cows come home about whether this is reasonable or indeed reflects the sentiment of the country as a whole (and I've blogged on this before) but it's happening, no two ways about it.

However, there is a feeling amongst us that the level of vitriol is unusual, that its like has never been seen before. Charlotte at the VN blog posted a well thought through piece on this the other day. Trouble is - I don't think it is that unusual. I think it's the norm.

It seems to me that every government has one figure who is aggresively attacked and pilloried across both the political and mainstream media alike.

Gordon Brown may have several severe character faults, but I also heard numerous occasions where his disability was mercilessly mocked. How can you laugh at a man for being blind? But it happened.

John Major was grey and a little metronomic - but he was also regularly mocked as the son of a circus performer and garden gnome salesman. This of a man who left school at 16 and finished as Prime Minister.

Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair - well, there's an endless list, isn't there...

So I think Nick is fulfilling the fall guy role that every government seems to have to have. We don't like it, and we've never experienced it before. But that in itself doesn't make it unusual in itself.


There is something else unusual going on here, isn't there? You've got there already I expect. Normally the role of bĂȘte noire is fulfilled by the PM. Yes, Deputy PM's have been mocked before - Prescott springs to mind. But it's a different sort of mocking, more pitying and patronising than vitriolic and nasty. Generally it's the PM (Brown, Blair, Thatcher) who constantly gets it in the neck in that more aggressive way. And yet Teflon David Cameron, son of Blair, has ensured he avoids that flack. I think he's done it deliberately, I think he's been aided by a weak perfomance by Ed Miliband, and I think the tuition fees debacle made it easier for him. But I also think he's been very clever, associating himself with the right initiatives, avoiding the wrong ones until they go pear shaped and then stepping in to sort them out. His ownership of the NHS and Justice issues in the last two days has been a masterful piece of media manipulation. Watch him step away again now. It's the opposite of the Gordon Brown 'Macavity's not there' strategy, stepping into a crisis, not away from it. The Tories learnt from Labour's mistakes.

But I think it's all beginning to change. And it's the Tory press who are going to lead that narrative, fed up with what they see as weakness, prevarication and an inability to set their own agenda and deliver right wing policies, because we won't let them.

Whereas we see u turns as a sign of maturity, a willingness to listen, to amend and improve, every reversal for the Tory media is another reminder that they didn't win a majority, even though they were fighting the most unpopular government since, oh I don't know, the invention of voting.

And increasingly, I reckon they are after Cameron, with articles like one linked here becoming more and more commonplace.

And this our chance. We must continue to be seen as the Tories conscience, the brake on their ambitions. And as we do so, the Tory right will get more and more angry, more and more frustrated, and ( as they always, always do) this anger will be squarely aimed at their leader. And he will, slowly but surely, become the major focus of character assassination, vitriol and anger. Where Guido Fawkes has gone first, the rest will surely follow.

And the attention will be off Nick and on that nice David Cameron.

Let's pop back to this 2 years from today. I bet I'm right.

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