Why Nick was right to speak out

by Stephen Tall on February 18, 2009

Nick Clegg’s article in yesterday’s Times – in which he looked at the impact of the recession, and predicted it would lead to a reinvention of traditional parenting roles – has provoked an entirely predictable knee-jerk from the right-wing media:

The Sun – LIB Dem boss Nick Clegg yesterday HAILED the slump as a chance for sacked workers to make a fresh start. In an astonishing gaffe, he said mass redundancies would have a “liberating effect”, allowing men to “reinvent” themselves as stay-home dads.

The Telegraph – The father-to-be has gone so far as to declare that redundancy could give men a welcome opportunity to “reinvent” themselves as stay-at-home dads. That’s going to go down like a lead balloon with the sacked staff at Mini. And Woolworths. And Leeds council. And JCB. And, and, and … These gaffes are becoming a bit of a habit.

Daily Mail – Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was accused of another gaffe last night after suggesting the recession offered a chance for men to ‘reinvent’ themselves as stay-at-home fathers.

It’s one of the ironies/hypocrisies of life that these are just the kind of newspapers which will despair of politicians who all ‘sound the same’, and which will praise politicians prepared to speak their minds … so long as they’re anti-EU, anti-PC and anti-immigrant.

Read Nick’s article, and it’s clear that this was not – by any stretch of the imagination – a “gaffe”. It was a considered response setting out the ways in which families are affected by, and respond to, economic storms. Nick emphasised the ‘unsettling and deeply disruptive’ effect of the main breadwinner – usually a man – losing his job, and that there needs to be much greater flexibility, both among those seeking work, and by society in terms of how we all view men undertaking non-traditional jobs.

I’m not sure Nick’s use of the term ‘reinventing ourselves’, or his suggestion that ‘many men will be forced to let go of their earlier identities and try something new’, were the best way of putting forward his case – it strikes a slightly airy-fairy, new-age rhetorical note at odds with his practical proposals for ways in which British family life might be improved.

But I don’t think that matters for three reasons:

First, the right-wing press are never going to be won over to the Lib Dem cause. They adore Vince not least because he gives them extra cover to go on the offensive against Nick and the party more widely, while maintaining a pretence of impartiality.

Secondly, Nick is clearly passionate about the issue of work/family balance. And it’s entirely right that he should champion causes about which he cares so strongly.

Thirdly, Nick needs to get noticed, and sometimes to say things which get him criticised. For every right-wing macho hack who labels his comments a gaffe there will be another person open to reason, and grateful that a politician is addressing issues in grown-up way.

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This is utter drivel, as usual. The moment a Tory or Socialist has talked in such terms in recent months -be it a politician or a commentator- the media have jumped on them. This was a clearly misjudged article, completely insensitive and out of step with the mood of the moment. You should concentrate on getting your berk of a leader to shape up and present himself in a sensible light, instead of whinging about the unfairness of the press. You can’t go on with the Party surviving on the back of the persona of Vince Cable alone.

by kardinal birkutzki on February 18, 2009 at 8:03 pm. Reply #

Quite right. These are desperate attempts to take lines out of context that were looking at how people actually live in a recession, rather than politician-speak rattling off numbers.

He gave a spirited explanation of his views, and defence against some pretty dumb questions, on this morning’s Woman’s Hour – it’s the first thing on today’s edition for anyone looking for it on iPlayer.

by Alex Wilcock on February 18, 2009 at 8:06 pm. Reply #

Nick’s piece was right, timely and well put. That it is getting knee jerk column inches from the old-fashioned part of the press is a welcome bonus.

by David Heigham on February 18, 2009 at 8:12 pm. Reply #

Yes, kardinal, because mobs are always right, aren’t they?

I attacked Alan Johnson’s dumb, smug, hypocritical attack on Andrew Lansley last year, too.

Isn’t it amazing how foaming right-wing bigots like the Sun, the Torygraph and the Daily Hate Mail all try to force their narrow notions of ‘family values’ down all our throats – but go on the attack whenever anyone comes up with thoughts about how to make family life more bearable for non-millionaires?

by Alex Wilcock on February 18, 2009 at 8:13 pm. Reply #

This says nothing about the recession and everything about the obsessive insecurities of social conservatives. The right wing press ape the language of individual choice while clinging like frightened children to safe cookie-cutter conformity. Haven’t they read their Maslow? There was a Chris Rose piece in Total Bollocks last month – they ought to have no excuse.

by Alix on February 18, 2009 at 8:26 pm. Reply #

Actually, having read Clegg’s article, I think the criticism in the press is unfair.

But this is exactly what I was afraid might happen after Clegg’s genuine blunders last year. The media are starting to adopt the “gaffe” motif as their narrative for Clegg:

“… an astonishing gaffe …” (under the headline “Clegg in dole slip”)

“These gaffes are becoming a bit of a habit” (under the headline “Nick Clegg’s latest gaffe)

“Nick Clegg was accused of another gaffe …” (under the headline “Fresh Clegg gaffe …”)

And one you missed from the Mirror:
“A Labour source called it another gaffe from the leader dubbed Calamity Clegg …”

If this kind of thing once gets established, it can be incredibly hard to fight against – as Ming Campbell found with the “old man” label, of course.

by Anonymous on February 18, 2009 at 8:26 pm. Reply #

With the Lib Dems breathing down Labour’s neck in the opinion polls, quite possibly due to the increased media exposure Clegg’s been getting in the last couple of months, I’ve no doubt Labour politicians are desperate for any excuse to paint him in a bad light.

The reality for any Lib Dem leader is that, to get the sort of media coverage that gets our poll rating up, you’ve got to speak out and take risks.

If Clegg was never getting this sort of criticism, it would mean he was playing safe and that would mean he was failing the party.

by Costigan Quist on February 18, 2009 at 8:33 pm. Reply #

Nothing wrong with the content of the article. Its also quite correct to say the right wing press will never love us and to lead debates you some times have to take this kind of flak. I have also posted before about the 30/70 dilemma. Forget the 70% of people who will never vote for us any way. why are we not getting the 30% that are “liberal” rather than the 16% to 18% we bump around at ? often because we spend all our time on “hard working families” crap aimed at the other 70%.

That said I think some of the imagery in the article is crass. The Full Monty ? “reinvent” etc.

the timming is also very odd and gnores the human stages of bereavement. You dont go in there with your clodhoppers just at the moment of loss mch still less when “loss/redundendcies” are still over a year away from peaking.

nearly all of the kind of people he is talking about still have shock,denial and anger to go through before they can come to acceptance. its only then that society will be susceptable to this knd of arguement.

In short you can’t fault the articles content, some f the reaction was inevitable but he shouldn’t have written it now or in that style.

by David Morton on February 19, 2009 at 7:40 am. Reply #

“They adore Vince because….” Huh?. The man has a nifty turn of phrase, which fits neatly with his nifty turn of direction every time something he has advocated slips down the popularity league. How can anyone take seriously a someone who once had a proper job at Shell and when he goes into politics becomes a Liberal – not a proper Liberal of the Manchester school who believed in Free Trade and sensible social policy but the left of Labour/Lib Lab pact/(pity Ashdown got swept along by Blair until No Longer Needed, whereupon dropped) and now we might join with the Tories. Just remember that Gladstone was a Tory until the chance of preferment made him become .. A Liberal

by Glyn H on February 19, 2009 at 7:47 am. Reply #

My guess is you haven’t lost your job?

by Sam on February 19, 2009 at 8:13 am. Reply #

And add “Oh dear. Another week, another crass misjudgment from Clegg.” from Viv Goskrop of the Evening Standard:

by Anonymous on February 19, 2009 at 10:22 am. Reply #

The problem, quite bluntly, was that it sounded like something from another age. Just like a lot of what Clegg says. You get the feeling he’d be more at home if he stepped into the Tardis and was transported back to ’97.

Talking fondly about decade-old films with the dubious moral message that we shouldn’t care about the demise of manufacturing makes him seem like just another Blair.

by Anonymous on February 19, 2009 at 12:21 pm. Reply #

While Clegg is totally right in the content of what he says, he should have known it would be twisted out of recognition by the right-wing press. Does he not have a press officer who can manage these things for him? Every single sentence needs to be considered carefully for how it can be taken out of context.

Anyway, the theme is totally on the wrong tack and off-agenda. It may be correct but just comes across as a soft liberal topic. Criticising gender stereotyping just not part of the agenda at the moment.

by Robert C on February 19, 2009 at 12:39 pm. Reply #

I haven’t see Nick’s article but from what I have seen and heard he is right.

Both fathers and mothers need to spend quality time with their kids and the work work work culture we live in has destroyed the family unit in the sence that partents are too tired to spend time with their kids because both need to work to pay the mortgage etc. and come back home too tired.

Being out of work is soul destroying (well it was for me in the Thatcher recession) so even though people may have the time some wont be in the right mood. I do hope some people will take the chance to bond with their kids as well as look for a new job to avoid losing their home.

by lloyd on February 19, 2009 at 12:59 pm. Reply #

Speaking up for parents who take bringing up children seriously was dead right. Saying that this means men as well as women was dead right. Tying all that in with the recession and job losses was horribly wrong. That’s the gaffe, and gaffe it certainly was. Just because the Sun are right-wing bigots with an axe to grind doesn’t mean you can ignore them when they hit on an uncomfortable truth.

Try reading the speech with the Full Monty bits taken out, and the “aren’t you lucky mate, you’ve been sacked, what a wonderful opportunity” line taken out. Suddenly it makes perfectly good sense! So why didn’t Nick get a press officer to point that out to him, before firing off another unnecessary vote-loser?

by David Allen on February 19, 2009 at 1:08 pm. Reply #

There is nothing at all wrong with the article – but unfortunately it is not what is required by the great british public of a party leader at the present time. Both Gordon Brown and David Cameron are focussing on the economy, how we got here, who is to blame and how we get out of it (allegedly unscathed) i.e. the big issue. Nick writes a piece on how individuals should react and cope with it. Sadly it is not what people expect to hear from a leader.

If it had come from an appropriate spokesperson, possibly David Laws, it would have been spot on. From a leader it gives the media the opportunity to portray Nick as not focussing on the real problem.

by Anonymous on February 19, 2009 at 3:02 pm. Reply #

Come on, he is a gaffe wildcard, GWB stylee (cleggover, pension amount, auto-calls, “The Pogues”, “Make It Happen”, etc). Another great example was announcing £7bn in spending cuts, and then a few weeks later the government announce a £7bn fall in revenue. Beware of the numbers 7 and 30, for they are the Clegg Numbers, and they mean anything he wants them to mean. Does nobody else get a twinge of embarassment when he says these things, or mentions any numbers, at all?

We all want to see better parents, but I fear the recession, and the second world war, are/were not the golden opportunities he paints them to be. Also, as I understand it there seems to be evidence that women are losing jobs at a faster rate than men, and, as such, his article seemed to be fundamentally flawed in its perspective.

We need to be honest with ourselves – there are fundamental problems with our current positions and leadership; Tory solutions are not part of a Liberal future.

by Anonymous on February 19, 2009 at 6:37 pm. Reply #

This is the ‘mainstream media’ who repeatedly praised at the miracle of rising house prices while encouraging their audience to take on ever-higher levels of debt…

Every time they falsely describe a LibDem as making a ‘gaffe’ they only further debase the term and damage their own reputation in the process. What’s happened, have they stopped looking at metrics like poll results and sales figures?

Hyperbole has always had it’s place… wrapping tomorrow’s chips!

by Oranjepan on February 19, 2009 at 8:34 pm. Reply #

“Every time they falsely describe a LibDem as making a ‘gaffe’ they only further debase the term and damage their own reputation in the process.”

Well, of course you can take the optimistic view that Sun readers will find the idea of Nick Clegg making a gaffe so ridiculous that they’ll all stop buying the paper in disgust, and take out subscriptions to Liberal Democrat News* instead.

I’m afraid most of them will simply swallow every word, though.

[* How did that old story go about Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Napoleon being taken forward in time to Moscow in the Soviet era? The punchline was Napoleon, on being shown a copy of Pravda, saying “With a newspaper like this no one would have heard of Waterloo.”]

by Anonymous on February 19, 2009 at 8:56 pm. Reply #

I agree – it doesn’t matter what the truth is, but what people perceive it to be.

by Anonymous on February 19, 2009 at 11:31 pm. Reply #

“But this is exactly what I was afraid might happen after Clegg’s genuine blunders last year. The media are starting to adopt the “gaffe” motif as their narrative for Clegg …”

Another indication that this is the case comes from this online article about the Lib Dems. The message of the article is positive – that the party will be well placed at the next election, but the author evidently feels compelled to fall in with the “gaffe” narrative.

Thus, in the first sentence, on improved poll ratings, this has to be “despite the derision chucked at leader Nick Clegg”. And further on, when s/he’s praising Clegg for being “personable and intelligent”, s/he feels the need to add the caveat, “for all his faux pas”.

by Anonymous on February 20, 2009 at 2:41 pm. Reply #

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