A European news site carried this paragraph last Wednesday:
It all sounds good, but, um, what is Nick actually going to be doing? If he’s making it count, what exactly is ‘it’? As the second most important chap in the land, what is going to be important enough to get his attention?
Since reading the snippet above, I’ve been scouring and scanning and Googling. But ‘What will Nick Clegg be doing?’ is the only thing that gets a zero on every search engine. Well, that’s not strictly true: in fact, that phrase gets 840,000 links….all of which say ”Clegg to be Number Two in new Coalition’. This is like The Prisoner: “I am not a number, I am Nick Clegg and I want to know what I’m supposed to be doing”.
Surely Mr Clegg has noticed by now that he hasn’t got a portfolio. But in a way, I think his real job starts today, when he has to convince several thousand antsy LibDem green shoots that he hasn’t sold out. On the whole, I don’t think he has – but I do think that, once the scent of power was in Slick Nick’s nostrils, he was never going to go back to being just the leader of a small opposition Party. And so when Cameron said “You’ll be Deputy PM”, he almost certainly thought, “Great Scott – that sounds very senior”. A moment’s reflection might have reminded Cleggie that the previous holder of this post was John Prescott; but even Prezzer had a Day Job – prising Tony and Gordon apart, aka ‘saving the own-goals’. There’s a clue in this parallel.
We know he’s not doing policy (that’s Ollie Letwin’s job) or Prime Ministering apart from the odd PMQs. He won’t be in charge of foreigners, cash, crime or the economy. And he can’t do EU relations, because that would garner IDS’s resignation within an hour of the appointment. So how will he fill his busy day?
There are those who argue that perhaps Nick’s job is to prise squabbling LibDems and Tories apart, and it does indeed look like those who were not wanted on voyage are very busy indeed telling everyone about what squabbles there will almost certainly be. Those with real jobs seem, for the time being at least, to be getting on with the business of getting on with each other.
A big slice of our new Deputy Prime Minister’s time will be taken up with countering the tidal wave of Mandy & Tebbitt-inspired stories about how appallingly duplicitous he was in trying to get the best deal he could for his voters. There’s one today in the Mail about how Nick was still making ‘last despairing phone calls’ to Gordon Brown at the death. The only despairing phone chat Clegg had with Gordon was to enquire pointedly about the date of his death. And we all know what happened then.
Yet another task on top of this one might be trying to find a hitman to rub out Clegg’s predecessors as Leader. The entirely empty Ming vase was a vocal critic at the Parliamentary Party meeting last week, Lord Ashdown – maybe Nick was right to call him Ashcroft – is privately expressing concerns (having been enthusiastic in public), and this morning Charlie Kennedy had a quick stiffener before telling The Observer that he didn’t vote for the Coalition. (At the Scottish Cup Final yesterday, I understand he called Clegg ‘a prick’. But then, he did have his half-time flask on him at the time).
So when you look at it closely, Nick Clegg will be what blokes call ‘the Keeper’ and girlies call ‘the Goalie’. His task is probably to defend the Coalition net against the undoubted striking talent of everyone from Charlie Whelan via Cups Kennedy to David ‘Rooney’ Miliband. This looks like it’s going to be a full-time job. How many goals he’ll have let in at fulltime remains to be seen; but as the Devil finds things for idle hands to do, I’d call this good news.
Related stories: Time for the Coalition knockers to butt out.