Clegg 'annoyed' not to be meeting Obama

by Stephen Tall on April 1, 2009

I preface this with a health-warning: the story is by Richard Key in the Daily Mail. Still, it comes with direct attributed quotes…

With all the fanfare surrounding the Obama visit, meeting the new U.S. president has become the hottest ticket in town. In short order he will see the Queen, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, but one figure who will not shake the presidential hand during the G20 conference is Nick Clegg. …

‘I am really annoyed,’ he told me. ‘As it was not a state visit I understood I wouldn’t get to see him. But when I found out Obama was meeting the Queen and David Cameron I got on the phone to David Miliband to ask him what was going on.

‘Frankly, it doesn’t look good for Cameron to see him and for me not to.’

The outburst came just moments before Obama’s plane touched down at Stansted airport. Instead of preparing to meet the president, Clegg was at the launch of Vince Cable’s new book on the economic crisis at the National Liberal Club.

At one point he turned to Cable and told him: ‘If I do get to go, I will give Obama a copy of your book.’ … Clegg’s appeal to Miliband is unlikely to succeed. Obama is not meeting any other opposition leaders during his later trip to Europe.

At first sight this might seem like grand-standing from Nick. But he does have a point, I think – this isn’t a state visit, and so there is no reason of protocol why President Obama shouldn’t meet the leader of the Liberal Democrats. Ah, foes will say, but the Lib Dems are not the main opposition party. True enough – but that didn’t stop Gordon Brown from ensuring that the Lib Dem shadow cabinet should be able to meet with the corresponding permanent secretaries of their departments.

Apart from anything else, it might be nice for President Obama to meet a senior British politician who, like him, actually opposed the Iraq war at the time.

Update: The Spectator’s Coffee House blog has picked up on the story, too, and reckon this is not (as a couple of commenters have speculated) an April Fool’s joke from Richard Key. But Nick’s office has refuted the quotes attributed to him:

Clegg’s office says that Clegg did not speak to Richard Kay. They also emphatically deny that he has called Miliband to try and get in to see Obama. In a way, what is surprising is that, when Obama announced his intention to meet with Cameron, the government didn’t try and get him to meet with Clegg as well to dilute the impact of the Cameron-Obama meeting.