13 March 2010

Nick Clegg defies Rory Bremner (and me)

More than 30 years have gone by since I first started recording political speeches (during the 1979 general election).

In the meantime, Labour and the Conservatives have each had six leaders (Callaghan, Foot, Kinnock, Smith, Blair & Brown/ Thatcher, Major, Hague, Duncan Smith, Howard and Cameron) and the Liberals/Lib Dems have had five (Steel, Ashdown, Kennedy, Campbell and Clegg).

Over the years, I've written and/or spoken about most of them and worked closely with one of them. In fact, at any point during the last three decades, I could usually come up with some pithy observationally-based points about 16 of these 17 leaders. The one exception, with whom I'm still struggling, is Nick Clegg.

'Definitely OK, absolutely fine, without any doubt not bad'
After Mr Clegg's last annual conference speech, I was sufficiently struck by the above comment from Phil Collins, former Blair speechwriter and Times journalist, that I lifted it for the title of that day's post.

I was also struck by the way other commentators had concentrated on his teleprompter-dependent 'walk-about' style of delivery. But so far, all I've been able to come up with about his speaking is what I said at the end of that post:

'If I were advising him, I'd get him to have a go at speaking from a lectern to see if it helped him to lift his performance beyond 'OK' and 'not bad'.

Nor do I seem to be alone
As I haven't been actively involved in LibDem politics since Paddy Ashdown stepped down as leader in 1999, I was pleased to have the chance to mingle with dozens of local party members a few weeks ago - as I was able to ask quite a lot of them what they thought of their leader.

What really surprised me was that not one of them spoke enthusiastically about him. Quite a few regretted that Chris Huhne hadn't won the leadership. Several spoke warmly about the good old days of Ashdown and Kennedy. One came up with a rather negative story about face-to-face encounters she'd had with Mr Clegg. Another even said that it would have been better if one of their Euro MPs had become leader!

In short, if the reactions of these party members were anything to go by, Phil Collins had got it about right with 'Definitely OK, absolutely fine, without any doubt not bad.'

The bland leading the bland?
Since then, it's emerged that the country's top impersonator, Rory Bremner - from whom I've lifted this sub-heading - seems to have been having similar problems to mine in coming up with an angle on Mr Clegg (plus quite a few other current politicians). And, as regular readers of this blog may know, I'm a great admirer of the analytic skills of impersonators - for more on which, see my earlier post on Mike Yarwood.

Is it significant, I wonder, that I was put on to this story by a Twitter tweet from the Liberal Democrat Voice blog posted by Mark Pack, a leading LibDem Blogger?

For those who didn't see it, here's some of what Rory Bremner had to say on the subject in yesterday's Birmingham Mail:

"I struggle with David Cameron, but I find Clegg particularly difficult to master ... I imagined meeting him at the party and him asking 'Can you do me?' I was going to say 'No, can you?' I don't think my life would be significantly poorer if I don't impersonate Nick Clegg. I think life is short enough without sitting up night after night listening to tapes of him and George Osborne.

Professionally speaking I want characters to win the election, but sadly we are probably going to lose a generation of people like David Blunkett and John Prescott. I have no handle on the new generation of MPs ... We have the bland leading the bland."

Who'll be watching Clegg's conference speech tomorrow?
On this evidence, it looks as though Mr Bremner won't be watching Mr Clegg's keynote speech at the LibDem Spring Conference tomorrow.

As for me, I've become so fascinated by our respective failures to get a handle on him that I'll probably watch and record it. As for whether or not I manage to come up with anything of interest, watch this space.

(And, if you have any observations, suggestions or ideas on the subject, I'd very much like to hear from you).


Keith Davis said...

Hi Max
"The bland leading the bland?"

I've always thought what a great speech title that would make, but never been able to come up with a speech to match it.

Nick Clegg is a good speaker when he is interviewed so you would expect him, or his team, to take that starting point and lift it for the duration of a speech... but no!

What's missing Max, why can't he lift his performance?

No sense of humour?

Beats me.

BTW Max - when are you going to come over to the dark side... Wordpress?

Max Atkinson said...

The trouble is, Keith, it beats me too, which is why I posted these thoughts on something that's been bugging me for quite a while.

Nor do you have to read very far between the lines in the LibDem blogosphere to see that quite a few of the party faithful find him as 'underwhelming' as the ones I mentioned in the blog.

I'm not even convinced that he comes across much more impressively than 'bland' - or 'without any doubt not bad' - in broadcast interviews either.

You may well have a point about lack of humour, and he does sometimes come across as 'tetchy' in interviews.

As for what it might be, the main hunch I've come up with so far is that might have something to do with the pitch and tone of his voice. Unfortunately, voice analysis isn't my strongest suit, and I certainly don't have any hard evidence on it so far.

But, with a bit of luck, there might be a voice coach out there who could enlighten us!

Tom said...

Part of the trouble impersonators (such as Rory Bremner) have is that once you get to a certain age it is incredibly difficult to convincingly impersonate someone who's significantly younger than you. Of course, it doesn't help that the most mainstream politicians these days sound almost universally identical...

Max Atkinson said...

Tom - good point about the age challenge for impersonators. But age doesn't really affect the sort of analyses I do.

So far on the blog, I've featured quite a lot of stuff from political youngsters (e.g. Obama, Cameron, etc.) ranging upwards to the 90 year old Harold Macmillian speaking on the first day of the televising of the House of Lords (http://bit.ly/cp0AmZ).

In other words, gaps in age may make it more difficult for the likes of Rory Bremner but aren't usually a problem for me - at least as far as I'm aware.

domnul said...

Wasn't it Jim Callaghan who said:"I'll tell you what is going on. I'm going on." ?

A.Friend said...

Well, i wrote to Nicky Clegg with my advice..so i do so hope he takes heed..