If you missed Call Clegg on LBC 97.3 this morning, I’m going to repeat it from 7pm on my evening show
Those of you who don’t listen to talk radio much may well wonder what all the fuss is about. But for a Deputy Prime Minister to commit to doing a half hour radio phone in every week signals several things. It’s obviously a great coup for LBC, and the publicity it has generated for the station has been massive. I suspect there were tens, if not hundreds of thousands of new listeners this morning when Nick Clegg squared up to Nick Ferrari at 9am. I gather Sky News filmed the whole thing and transmitted it live too. A radio station couldn’t buy such publicity.
But why has Nick Clegg done it? What’s in it for him? Some will say that it’s a sign of desperation to do this. I disagree. Nick Clegg said to me once that he delighted in taking political risks. I would say this is a calculated risk on his part, but no more than that. He’s good at thinking on his feet, he’s got a good sense of humour and doesn’t mind taking some flak along the way. I think his advisers that a repeat of Tony Blair’s masochism strategy is called for, and I think I probably agree with them. An example of this occurred during today’s programme when a LibDem councillor, John in Woking, called in and explained why he had torn up his LibDem membership card. Clegg dealt with it as well as he could. He was never going to change John’s mind, but possibly he made him think. And that’s all a politician can do in these circumstances.
Other questions revolved around welfare reform, student fees, benefit cuts and the military. Clegg dealt with them all very well. Looking at the Twitter reaction it’s clear that Clegg achieved what he sought to do. Many people were saying the equivalent of ‘good on him for facing the music’, and I don’t really think it is realistic to expect any more than that. This is a long term commitment from Clegg and his media advisers and the true test of whether it has worked for him will come in 4-6 months time. Will people’s opinion of him have changed, or not?
And the test for LBC will be whether the Breakfast Show audience has been maintained or expanded. My suspicion is that Call Clegg will help grow the figures, partly because there’s a car crash rubbernecking element to this. People know that at some point a politician is going to cock up on a phone in. It’s happened several times over the years and in six months Clegg is bound to say something injudicious, hilariously funny, or be taken to the cleaners by a caller. But as in most programmes on LBC, the callers are the key to this. I’m told the switchboard was in meltdown this morning.
In the end the success of the programme will be measured by the quality of the calls that are put through. Today’s programme showed quite a good mix. I liked the lighter ‘onesie’ question at the end. You need to have a lighter element to these type of programmes too, and that’s where the host is key. Nick Ferrari played his role perfectly this morning I thought, following up Clegg’s answers to callers and probing him a little bit more. Nick has a very different presenting and interviewing style to me. I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other – you may disagree! – but in this format I think Nick’s approach is spot on. Clegg knows that if he gives a pat answer, Ferrari just won’t stand for it.
Some people have suggested that Nick Clegg should be doing his job rather than take part in radio phone-ins. A completely fatuous point. It is surely part of any politician’s job to be held accountable by the public, and the radio phone-in is a great way of doing this. Other politicians should take note. Another criticism is that it is biased to have one politician on every week. Well, I’m sure I’d happily host a Call Cameron or Call Miliband phone-in on my programme. Over to you Craig Oliver and Bob Roberts! Indeed, this Sunday I shall have Sadiq Khan in the studio for an hour taking calls.
You can listen to a free podcast of Call Clegg HERE, or tune in at 7pm this evening and we’ll replay it in the first half hour of my show tonight, and then get listeners’ reaction.