3 reasons to be relaxed about Nick’s “secret debate dossier”

by Stephen Tall on April 21, 2010

The Sun today splashes on the A-M-A-Z-I-N-G news that Nick Clegg’s campaign strategists have been advising him on how to perform to the best of his abilities in the televised leaders’ debates:

The dossier – bizarrely titled I’m Not Here Right Now – was left in the back of a cab on Thursday at about 10.30pm, soon after the end of the first election debate. … The dossier was written by John Sharkey, chairman of the Lib Dem election campaign team and Mr Clegg’s strategic communications adviser. It includes blistering criticism of Mr Clegg’s performance in rehearsals for last week’s first debate – after which the Lib Dems soared in the polls. … his debating style is heavily criticised throughout the dossier.

The Lib Dem leader is told – again in capitals for emphasis – that he needs “more passion/conviction,” to “speak more slowly” and that he is being “too repetitive.” Mr Sharkey also urges him to “look more relaxed” and to use “shorter, simpler answers”. He is also told to stop rambling – “Answer first… not discursive tour.”

Here are three reasons I’m relaxed about this mistake and The Sun’s decision to make such a meal of it:

1. It keeps the focus on Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems: if there’s one thing worse than being attacked it’s being ignored. The tabloid press are very successfully doing the Lib Dems’ job for us: reminding people that we exist, that there is a viable alternative to the same old politics as usual.

2. Thank God Nick’s not surrounded by yes-men: John Sharkey’s words are brutally honest about Nick’s performance in his debate prep. Good. The last thing I want is for Nick to be surrounded by advisors parroting how fab he is. I wonder if Messrs Cameron and Brown’s top teams would be prepared to tell their boss what he didn’t want to hear?

3. The party’s reaction has been under-statedly spot-on:
There’s been no attempt to bluster our way out of it, pretend it’s not a gaffe. The politely measured response quoted in The Sun: “It is private property and we’d like it back, please.” Even better, though, was Nick’s cheerful dismissal at this morning’s press conference:

I’m glad to see my top team preparing for government by developing a habit of leaving secret dossiers in the back of cabs. Look, I’ve always been advised just to be myself in the TV debates and that’s exactly what I was and what I will continue to be.”