Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg takes to the LBC airwaves this morning for the first in a series of weekly question and answer phone-in shows with the public. Liam Herbert wonders how long Call Clegg will survive…
The news that Nick Clegg will “speak to the nation” as he takes up a weekly slot on London’s premier talk station has been greeted with much amusement in Westminster.
But should we be surprised at this move by the deputy prime minster? We live in an age where politicians are increasingly taking to the media – both in its traditional form and especially through social media in an attempt to connect directly with people – so this could be a good move.
Politicians taking to the media outlets are not new and 'Call Clegg' is the latest in a wide variety of 'public engagement' initiatives that includes Nadine Dorries entering the jungle to bring the Westminster message to a wider audience.
The bigger question is why LBC – a London centric talk radio station – rather than a network with a national reach?
The ambition of politicians to take their message direct to the people is a good one. In an increasingly fractured media landscape the routes to voters are harder to define, particularly with a large proportion of the electorate for whom 'politics' is not top of their interest list.
However, with politics being politics this can be perceived as much about the Lib Dems getting their own message out to voters as the DPM engaging with the country.
So, LBC – is this the audience that the Lib Dems want to engage with? A weekly slot with Nick Ferrari (a great robust interviewer) will certainly attract some interesting calls from London’s phone-in community. The LBC style is best when it is combative so Clegg will need to be on top of his game week after week, and week after week someone will call asking why he can afford the time out of the office to do a phone in show. In the words of Peter Bone MP: “I am quite amazed that he has got enough time to go off and do a radio programme every Thursday." The response that it’s important to reach out and listen will wear thin very quickly.
The Opposition has wasted no time in rubbishing the idea, with Labour MP John Mann noting: “It shows how irrelevant he is to the running of the country. My question to ask Nick is: ‘what is the point of Nick Clegg? Is he Kilroy in disguise?’”.
Which is an interesting position as it was Labour who really embraced this 'sofa style' engagement when the party machine put Tony Blair through a seemingly endless parade of media performances with people irrevocably hostile to him personally and the Labour message.
So with the limited reach of a half hour slot on a London radio station - which will no doubt gain a wider reputation at the mercy of the Westminster twitterati (but perhaps not for the right reasons) – we shall see how long Thursdays with Nick will endure.
At the end of the day, and particularly after the cringingly bad and much spoofed Clegg Apology on YouTube, you do have to wonder which bright spark in Lib Dem HQ thought this was ever going to be a good idea.
Liam Herbert is a director in the PR and parliamentary affairs agency JBP