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‘I agree with David’ Clegg has disqualified himself from a place in TV debates next time

Posted on 25 March 2011 | 10:03am

As the Rebecca Black phenomenon develops (google or go on twitter if you have yet to catch up on this comical story of nowhere to somewhere fast) last night I asked for other examples of people who went from total obscurity to sudden constant twittertrending.

Several people mentioned Nick Clegg and the impact he made after the first of the leaders’ TV debates before the last election.

And now inadvertently Clegg has opened up the question of whether he should be able to take part in the debates before the next election.

As he left a joint public meeting with David Cameron yesterday, and not realising his microphone was still on, he said ‘if we keep doing this, we won’t find anything to bloody disagree on in the bloody TV debates.’ So Lib Dem – the B word!

But seriously – why does he assume he should be there at all? It would frankly be ridiculous if two men who spend a whole Parliament saying they agree with each other suddenly pop up for TV debates pretending that actually they don’t.

It won’t actually do Clegg much good either, as it will serve as a powerful reminder that he says one thing before an election – I totally disagree with everything David says – and does another when he gets in power, namely whatever David tells him to.

It would be as ludicrous as having had, last time out, three lecterns with Gordon Brown at one, David Cameron at another, and Harriet Harman at the third one.

I was always amazed that the Lib Dems were given equal billing. When we were negotiating on possible leaders’ debates in 1997, even Paddy Ashdown did not believe he should be treated in the same way as TB and John Major. Why? Because he knew he had no chance of being Prime Minister.

The formation of the coalition, and the closeness of Cameron and Clegg, means the parties and the broadcasters should revisit the whole issue of TV debates and the form they take.

The starting point should be to rename them ‘Prime Ministerial debates’, and have on stage those of the party leaders who might become PM.

If Caroline Lucas, Nigel Farage and Alex Salmond aren’t required, nor is Clegg whose every answer, on current showing, will begin with ‘I agree with David’.

  • If nothing else, it’s fairly presumptive of him to assume he’ll still be around in 2015. The Lib Dem Spring Conference showed that a lot of the grassroots are disappointed and it won’t be long before that disappointment turns to anger.

  • Deanperry08

    I agree with Alastair lol

  • Charlie

    Well we allowed Brown into the TV debates even though every answer of his was ‘I agree with Nick’. Perhaps he should have been disqualified… đŸ˜‰

  • Mark Halsworthy

    Mrs Duffy trended on twitter for a while … you’d hav e thought Clegg would have learned about microphones by now

  • Milly Hurst

    I know why Labour people don’t like Clegg but never forget who the real enemy are — always have been always will be the Tories.

  • Richard Olszewski

    Is it too much to hope that we rule out TV debates at the next election anyway?

    They completely undermined the rest of the general election. The media, pollsters, commentators, and probably the public too, became obsessed with the debates to the exclusion of virtually everything else in the parties’ campaigns. We either got endless, vacuous analysis of the debate that had just been, or endless vacuous analysis of the debate that was about to be held.

    Rather than just exclude Clegg from the TV debates, we should end this pointless experiment altogether.

  • The whole LibCon thing has become painful. Didn’t the bench look uncomfortable as Nick squirmed his way through the Budgie? Plus, George might be good with figures but his voice was not a strong one. Whereas Ed got his points across very well indeed. In fact, he made sense of what should be and rubbished what is without resorting to insults – only some comedy.

    Any future debates might be better held between more minor MP celebs so that the truer Lib Dems get a voice because no one is hearing what they really believe anymore.

    As a family man, there’s respect available for all of them; as politicians, I see little to applaud. Feathering nests they are very good at. Knowing what the reality of ‘normal’ lives is like – forget it. They know nothing.

    So, if the next Election is not until 2015 or if – God willing – it is much sooner, it might be best to ask the people if they want/need debates on a national level or many more local ones with their own candidates slogging it out or just some truth to read. Ha!

  • Jacquie R

    There’s another way of looking at this. If both Clegg and Cameron appear on the TV debates, it would be both risible and a complete insult to the public’s intelligence, giving Ed a distinct advantage. I say bring it on – and the sooner the better!

  • Olli Issakainen

    Entering the coalition has exposed deep ideological spilts within the Lib Dems. And millions of progressive voters are not supporting them any more.
    The Liberal-SDP merger made sense in the 1980s. But now the Lib Dems should split.
    At 2010 election the Lib Dems advertised leftish values: no deep cuts, more equality and strong welfare state. Voters now see that the party has gone against its key values.
    The Lib Dems attracted a lot of voters from Labour with their moral campaign. But it is now time for the Lib Dems to end this dual identity.
    Politics today is all personality and no policy. And political parties offer voters no meaningful opportunity for involvement in policymaking process.
    The combined membership of the three main parties has fallen from 3.5m in the 1950s to about 540,000 today.
    Party leaders are concerned with winning power and have little interest in policy issues. Political parties are increasingly dominated by party leaders. They play politics of image and policy vagueness in pursuit of power.
    Modern media is more interested in personalities of party leaders than policies. Election campaigns are built around party leaders and TV debates. Pollsters and advisers have replaced party volunteers.
    Parties these days are election-day machines to power. The economic and political interests of elites are heard at the expense of the electorate.
    Had Gordon Brown not taken part in the TV debates, Labour would have been the largest party.

    Ps. There will be a general election in Finland next month. I am always heavily involved in campaigns helping friends. This time, like four years ago, I am helping a friend of mine who is a local MP and also a member of our Cabinet. TV debates have already started with now four possible candidates for PM as the populist True Finns anti-immigration and anti-EU party are so popular. True Finns are not a rightwing party, but as many paper mills have been closed and jobs have gone to Asia, they are popular.

  • Robrob2002

    It’s a valid argument – but I’m more concerned about how well Ed M will perform in these debates.

    I know it’s early days, and he needs time to grow into the role – but I hope he and his advisors recognise that he is a million miles away from where he needs to be.

    The Tory led coalition are getting away with murder – and Labour are letting them get away with it. Ed Balls is also not communicating well – but admittedly, it is even earlier days for him.

    If the front bench team hasn’t improved by this time next year – the party needs to make significant changes.

  • Richard Brittain

    Haha, great analogy. Completely agree. It really is quite tragic for the Lib Dems, and I think there is a real possibility that they will be obliterated totally in the next general election. Probably a difficult situation for them, but they are bringing it upon themselves. Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander appear to be career politicians.

  • Sarah Dodds

    I have just realised that we have had this lot for almost a year already….that has gone quick. But having my leg amputated with a sharp axe would also (I assume) be over quite quickly; but still might kill me in the process.
    And as for Nasty Nick, I am not too sure where he should be planning to be in the next four years. Like everyone in the public sector, I would suggest he keeps all options open, and prepares for when he is deemed to be surplus to public expenditure.

  • Richard Brittain

    By the way, I’ve been really impressed with Labour this last week, especially Ed Balls. He’s been confronted by Tory interviewers like Jeff Randall, Dermot Murnaghan and Nick Robinson. They’ve all tried to stump him, asking leading questions, but he has held firm and really got his points across in a logically convincing way. Labour are really starting to present a strong argument, and it’s good timing. Miliband really impressed in that talk with school kids too – Clegg was awful in that.

  • Leon

    You really don’t get it. It is a coalition of two independent parties. Can’t you get over tribal politics for once. I may not agree with the coalition on a lot of things but I respect them for being a civilised, respectful alliance. Previous single party governments were troubled by in-fighting and when we get some consensus this is the reaction you get. Each party has a right to be involved in any debate as their parties will have different policies to present and have sufficient seats and share of the vote. The SNP, Plaid etc should have some involvement in my view but they get this through their regional governments anyway. Just because the Tories and LDs have had to compromise (or cave in as many like to portray it) it does not mean that they are the same. I agree though that the issue of the debates should be revisited – they were a disaster and turned the election into something closer to X-factor than a real political debate. I asked my son why he voted LD and the only response was that he wanted to be part of Cleggmania and his mates were voting LD for the same reason. I’d prefer one on one interviews with tough but fair interviewers (not many of those around) to establish what are the real differences between the parties and what each party would aim to achieve in the event of any coalition.

  • Sivota

    It will be impossible for Clegg to enter the debates (which are a nonsense in a parliamentary democracy anyway) as a genuine candidate for the Premiership. Why? Because there is absolutely no chance whatsoever of him holding on to his Sheffield seat.
    I wonder if, when that fact dawns on him, his friend Dave will offer him a safe Tory seat?

    • Dave Simons

      Clegg’s seat, Sheffield Hallam, is one of the wealthiest constituencies in the north of England. It was a safe Tory seat from the end of the First World War to 1997. Hallam constituency extends from Stannington in the northwest of Sheffield to Dore in the southwest, and it includes small parts of the city centre in the east. It also includes the wards of Crookes, Dore and Totley, Ecclesall and Fulwood. It will be interesting to see what happens to these wards in the coming local elections, especially Dore and Totley, Ecclesall and Fulwood. These latter wards are extremely unlikely to return a Labour candidate, so if voters are fed up of Clegg and his local LibDem councillors they might end up putting the Tories back into Sheffield City Council after fourteen years absence.

  • Ehtch

    We have become like the US – a mainly two party state, unless Nigel Farage starts going places, that is.

    I think Farage will be good entertainment in the next tv debate, which hopefully will be sooner rather than later. 2015 seems a long, long wait, what with the way things are going at the moment.

  • Yonks

    I have to say you must be easy to impress if you think anyone other than diehards will vote for Balls or Milliband. When the election comes round, all the Tories and LibDems will do is remind everyone how we got into the financial mess. Balls is still in denial and they won’t let him dream it all away. Milliband is nothing more than an opportunist, can you seriously imagine him as PM?

    • Richard Brittain

      Far too early to begin talking about who we are voting for in the next election, which is more than 3 years away.

      I think it’s important to approach the parties in a fair way. Let’s not write off anyone yet (apart from the Lib Dems, who are a walking catastrophe – partly their own fault, partly not).

      What I’m saying is, having heard Balls speak this week – He makes a good argument, and he’s talking sense.

      Truth is, I don’t know what caused the financial mess, and neither do you. I think it’s partly Labour’s fault, but they’ve more-or-less admitted that now. We can’t dwell in the past forever. We need to step forward.

      I find it diffcult to imagine Miliband being a PM, and have commented on such in the past. But, two years ago, I found it difficult to imagine that Tottenham Hotspur would be in the quarter-finals of the Champion’s League, and that Kenny Dalglish would be Liverpool manager again.

      Both Eds, I think, are progressing.

  • Macduff777

    I agree with robrob2002, EdM will really need to up his game if he is to do well at the debates. DC is wiping the floor with him at PMQ’s and it just isn’t good enough when there are so many open goals. Considering that a lot of floaters used the tv debates to help with their decision, Ed needs to change course and get meaner.

  • The other option would be to set an opinion poll vote threshold of (say) 10% or 15% of the vote – which, on current polling, would comfortably exclude the Lib Dems. I ‘d favour having two debates – one with just Ed Miliband and Dave Cameron and then another one with all party leaders including Caroline Lucas, Nigel Farage, Alex Salmond etc. to widen it out a bit.

  • Chris lancashire

    Well since Brown (I agree with Nick) didn’t disqualify himself from the last set of debates then on the same basis Clegg doesn’t need to stand down either. Better yet, scrap the whole ridiculous farce next time round.

  • Chris lancashire

    Richard: Balls does severe damage to Labour every time he opens his mouth with uncommitted voters.

  • Richard Brittain

    Two ways of looking at it. You can either watch his slightly smug grin, and somewhat self-assured rhetoric, and groan about the (perceived) arrogance, or you can listen to his words and make your own mind up. I think he’s driving a good argument. Certainly, he’s not doing any harm to Labour, and very probably helping their cause. He isn’t going to win over any diehard anti-Labourites, but who would?

  • Neal Boden

    what I wonder about is : we know Clegg and Cameron had met and discussed a coalition policy agreement BEFORE the TV debates last year , and that Clegg says he changed his mind on the best way to sort out the economy BEFORE the TV debates SO was there some play acting rehearsed between them going into the debates…. looks probable and if that is so they were both taking and playing the public for fools makes me so sick to think this, that when I watch replays of the debates now i want to vomit seeing the deception the pair of them are acting out ?

  • toni

    Danny Alexander has made an impact too, a horrible one at that, and I’d never heard of him until after the GE result.

  • Sarah Dodds

    Just wish I could make it to London in the morning…..this makes me fume

  • Dave Simons

    To me this reads like a school textbook explanation. Do you seriously think that when the LibDems and Tories are in their cups their private thoughts are those of ‘a civilised, respectful alliance’? Do you seriously think there is no in-fighting within each party and between the parties? Please don’t mistake the public face for reality. Remember the SDP/Liberal alliance of 1987 – before the General Election it was all smiles and consensus and working together, and then immediately after the election they were at each other’s throats! Wait for the local elections in May and let’s see what happens to the Coalition.

  • Anonymous

    I watched only enough of the debates to decide they were pointless. However, they must have had a merit for Clegg, for his star seemed to rise after them and a lot of gullible people voted for his party.

    Which tells you all you need to know about the merits of such televised debates. The only one who was deemed to do well in them has turned out to be a real corker.

    I’m glad his proximity to Cameron is now a matter of record. But as someone here observes, it predated the election (as did George Osborne’s cosying up to David Laws). Birds of a dismal feather.

  • David Steele

    I remain hopeful that david Miliband will be labour leader by the next General Election. I can dream.