No knee-jerker, he
Plenty o' people talkin' about Nick Clegg right now.
Here's my angle.
The first UK election that impinged upon my consciousness was 1992's. I – mere scamp of a 9-year-old – did not have a spectacularly nuanced perspective on the whole shebang. I thought Neil Kinnock was kind of odd, and John Major kind of boring.
But I remember thinking one thing, as I watched the 6 o'clock news to see Labour trundle out shadow minister after shadow minister to respond to Tory policy and deeds in office.
I remember thinking this: You know, if for once these guys just said, "You know what? This time, I agree with the government", or, "Labour's policy on this is actually pretty similar to the Conservatives'" – if they did that, I'd probably start listening to what they say.
Obviously not all the time. But sometimes.
If they started a conversation, rather than a confrontation. If they seemed to be thinking about the lines they were spouting, not just knee-jerking their way through the interview.
Now, as I've said, my pre-teenage political consciousness was very limited indeed. I didn't really understand the notion that (arguably) the role of a strong opposition is to provide the counterargument (yeah, like Iraq and Afghanistan. Hmm ...). I didn't really get the whole parliamentary shebang.
But I did get this: Jesus, these Labour guys are so bloody negative. They're always complaining and saying how much better they would be.
And this brings me to Nick Clegg's genius. His ability – exercised time and again during the TV debates – to make a transition from adversarial politicospeak to conversational directness. His talent at seeming genuinely to be thinking about things and responding to people in an inclusive 'let's think about this' kind of way, as opposed to trotting out formulae, following the agreed line, defending the camp.
Think of it this way: how different would the Tories' We can't go on like this line have played coming from Nick Clegg rather than David Cameron? It would have come across as earnest frustration. Something like 'We must be able to come up with something better'. Instead, alongside David Cameron's polished jowls, the line read as mildly didactic irritation (rather more like 'I say 'we' but actually I mean you can't go on like this, making the wrong electoral choices, you foolish public.')
I'm not a fool, and I know well enough that Clegg has his own formulae, his own line, his own camp. But he is way, way better at humanising, at blurring the edges, at stepping off the metaphorical podium.
Because both Brown and Cameron are politicians of the Now let's be absolutely clear about this … ilk. They give the impression (however well-schooled their vocal tones and delivery, however monstrously hard they might attempt to smile and adopt a 'man of the people' tone) that they think they know better. Their reflex is to take a position and defend or attack. Even if they aren't sure what they actually think.
Clegg is the only one who gives the impression that he's not a political knee-jerker (some might choose to leave off the 'knee-'). And for me, I find (so perhaps my inner 9-year-old isn't that far away after all) this makes him – instinctively – far more appealing.