by Stephen Tall on June 16, 2011
In the USA they have the White House correspondents’ dinner, an occasion for leading politicians to take pot-shots at the media, themselves, and – most crucially – their opponents. Barack Obama’s quip-assault on Donald Trump ended the wannabe Republican presidential hopes before they’d begun.
The UK has no equivalent, but (as PoliticsHome’s Paul Waugh notes) the Parliamentary Press Gallery lunches are the nearest equivalent. And today was Nick Clegg’s turn to convey a serious message… whilst landing a jab or two. So, who was in Nick’s sights? Step forward Labour’s troubled leader Ed Miliband, and one-time rival Chris Huhne.
Here’s how Paul relates it:
Nick Clegg didn’t disappoint. Like all his predecessors, he managed to give us hacks what we want: a news story and some excellent gags.
The best feature of making gentle jokes at colleagues’ expense is that you can of course hide more than a grain of truth in the humour.
He had a neat joke about Ed Miliband and Ryan Giggs: “One’s a fading left winger who’s upset his brother. The other’s a footballer.”
But it was the DPM’s line about Chris Huhne – “Whatever people say about Chris Huhne, I don’t know any politician better at getting his point across” – that was a classic.
Clegg admitted that it was a bit of “belated revenge” for Huhne’s own coining of the phrase ‘Calamity Clegg’. That was way back in 2007, so this certainly was a dish best served ice cold.
Then again, it must also underline just how safe Huhne is that the DPM can afford to make such a joke. The odds on Huhne being charged by the cops are lengthening by the day.
Clegg was also keen to ram home his claim that it’s not progressive to maintain a record deficit, something he described as “a form of intergenerational theft”. His line about Plan B standing for “bankruptcy” was a strong hit back at Ed Balls.
But it wasn’t all jokes, as the Guardian relates:
Clegg said he believed his party would eventually reap the electoral benefit of the tough decisions taken over the past year, but admitted he did not like some of the measures he has had to implement in government as part of the drive to eliminate the deficit by 2015. “There are things we are having to do which we would rather not,” he said. “I don’t relish having to make these very big cuts and savings.”
Nick’s biggest regret? Not surprising: tuition fees, and in particular the Coalition’s inability to sell a higher education package that will cost all graduates less in repayments than the current system of fees introduced by the last Labour government (and if you don’t want to take my word for it, click here).
As Paul Waugh notes Nick lamenting:
“Have we failed to get across the message that they are a kind of time-limited graduate tax? Yes. Bluntly, we clealry haven’t got that message across. We have failed to explain [it]“
At the height of the row over tuition fees, the Lib Dem leader calling them a graduate tax would have been a bit of a story. (Indeed Cable was barred by the Treasury from using the t-word).
Clegg’s lament certainly reflects the view of many in his party that the Coalition should have sold their policy as a graduate tax to win more support.
Which is a punchline that won’t raise many laughs in the Lib Dems.