By Peter Hoskin
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they tuned in, what might the Tory leadership have learnt from the first of
Nick Clegg’s weekly appearances on LBC radio? Not much that they wouldn’t have
known already. Some of the stand-out points included:

  • Voter anger… Almost all
    of the questions put to Mr Clegg by callers were, if not explicitly hostile, at
    least sceptical — and many of them focussed on cuts to benefits or to public
    services. In contrast to some of the rhetoric we’ve heard from Tory HQ, the
    Deputy Prime Minister’s responses were sensibly regretful. I lost count of how
    many times he said “difficult decisions.” At one point he said that he “took no
    relish” in agreeing to the 1 per cent cap on benefit increases.
  • …and apathy. One of the
    callers said that he had torn up his Lib Dem membership card. When asked who he’d vote for now, he replied that he “can’t support any party”. His will not be an
    isolated case at the next election.
  • The
    continuing emphasis on the income tax threshold and the pupil premium.
    In almost
    every response, Mr Clegg mentioned both the Coalition’s plan to increase the
    income tax threshold to £10,000 and the pupil premium, as well as policies such
    as those around apprenticeships. You can understand why: these are policies
    that the Lib Dems have fought for in Government. But some Tories will baulk at
    the thought of their Coalition partners seizing all the credit. As the next
    election approaches, there are likely to be plenty of skirmishes over
  • The solidification
    of the pro-EU case.
    Yesterday’s ConHome
    mentioned the “stealthy pro-EU fightback” that’s currently
    under way. Some of its main arguments were also put forward by Mr Clegg today.
    He agreed that the EU needs reforming, but added that “it’s about not whether you
    believe in reform or not, it’s whether you believe in jobs, jobs, jobs and, of
    course, safety.”
  • And, yes…
    Nick Clegg owns a onesie.
    Apparently, the Deputy Prime Minister was given a green onesie in
    Sheffield, but it has remained in its wrapping, unworn. Expect photographic
    mock-ups of him onesied-up in tomorrow’s papers.

I hope the lesson that most struck Cameron & Co. was the success of the
radio Q&A format. Part of it was Nick Ferrari’s lively hosting of
proceedings: he allowed the six callers to respond to the Deputy Prime
Minister, as well as asking two questions of his own, one based on a story in
this morning’s newspapers (“What would you say to the
?”) and another more generic (“Why are you so unpopular?”). It was
engaging, informal and largely unhurried. But part of it was also Nick Clegg’s
contribution: there was politicking in what said, sure, but he was also
relatively upfront and persuasive. The Lib Dem leadership must believe that he
will gain respect for doing these Q&As. I’m sure they’re right.

course, David Cameron has himself done much to pioneer this sort of interaction
between voters and politicians. His Cameron
Direct meetings
follow a very similar Q&A format to that on LBC this
morning. But, over the past couple of years, the spirit behind such meetings
has waned. Now, too often, it seems that PMQs is treated as the most important
conversation that the Prime Minister has with the public, even though it has
long been debased. Hours of his time are spent preparing for what is, on the
whole, a grim display of attack lines, planted questions, bluster and
caterwauling. This is no way to improve the public’s faith in Westminster,
whereas the occasional radio Q&A might just be.

fact, ‘tis similar to Tim’s recent
piece of advice
for the Prime Minister: “Give more one-to-one interviews
and fewer speeches because you are at your most persuasive in these fora.”
There are now other, sometimes better, ways for politicians to communicate than the old ways.

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