Nick Clegg’s communication skills deserted him on his first weekly phone-in show
Nick Ferrari (Call Clegg) | (LBC)
Mark Forrest (BBC London) | iPlayer
The Life Scientific (R4) | iPlayer
Remember the halcyon days before the last general election? When Gordon Brown was a man who mattered, when “double dip” was what you did with a liquorice stick into sherbet, when owning property meant you were rich? Nick Clegg does. Back in those strange times, the Cleggmeister was considered a great communicator, winning live TV debates hands-down, disarming the viewers so thoroughly that both Brown and Cameron merely parroted what he said, but not as plausibly. Clever Cleggo won the media war, and his reward was coalition government. Hope he’s happy.
Oh, but things are different now. Cute Cleggles is the most loathed of mainstream political leaders, his party the least liked. So he’s decided to take his charm to the people once more, by appearing on a weekly phone-in radio show, Call Clegg, on LBC 97.3. Some people wondered why he chose a London local station rather than one in his Sheffield constituency, but that’s fairly obvious, given that most of his everyday work is in Westminster and he hates Sheffield (a joke). Still, LBC diligently sent up a reporter to Sheff to talk to a selected group of voters after Clegg’s chat, to see what they thought.
The Sheffield post-show complaints were that Clegg didn’t really listen to the questions, that he trotted out prepared answers. But that was partly the fault of the first two callers, professional political junkies both. One, John Doran, used to be a Lib Dem councillor; the other was a Sheffield University student: both had prepared their queries, like they were appearing on Question Time. Neither was in the mood to be convinced by Clegg, whatever he said. Doran announced that he’d torn up his Lib Dem membership card. That’s not a question, it’s a stance.
Thank goodness for Nick Ferrari, who hosts the show. Vastly experienced, a bit of a tease, Ferrari has no qualms about shutting callers up to keep things moving. I liked his quick digs at Clegg (“Were tuition fees the biggest regret of your political life?”) and insistence on brevity (“Just a couple of sentences, please”). The production was smooth, too, with cleverly chosen callers, the last of whom asked the Lib Dem leader if he had a onesie (he has, it’s green, he’s never worn it), thereby guaranteeing headlines. Overall, then, a success, though short: just half an hour long including adverts, which were… um, specialist. Joyofplants.com: for those who want a nice plant. Reputation.com: for those who want a nice reputation. Isn’t the internet amazing?
Another – less celebrated – new offering is Mark Forrest‘s evening programme. The result of BBC cost-cutting, Leeds-based Forrest now has three live hours streamed across the nation’s BBC local stations from 7pm-10pm on weekdays. So a national show, clearly: the localness is provided by the content, which consists of the best bits of that day’s local radio from anywhere in Britain, cut and pasted between the don’t-scare-the-budgie song content and Forrest’s incessant announcement of phone numbers, text numbers, email addresses, Twitter names… Jersey and Guernsey have different numbers to the rest of the country. On and on it goes.
I’ve no doubt that Forrest’s show requires much producer preparation and some technical wizardry. However, what the listener hears is not the work put in, but the show put out. And, sorry to say, it’s a bore-fest. If this is Britain talking to itself, then I wouldn’t want to be stuck with us at the canapé table. We are dull. Nice, but dull. Forrest is clearly lovely, but he’s never going to raise anyone’s heart rate or bile. I listen via BBC London 94.9. When Forrest stops, Simon Lederman comes on, an upbeat ranter who forces you to have an opinion on news stories just through the tone of his voice. Forrest’s show needs some of what Lederman is drinking.
Or perhaps some more interesting tales. Such as that of Amoret Whitaker, Radio 4’s The Life Scientific guest this week. A respected entomologist, in recent years she’s moved into forensics, as the way insects feed upon a cadaver can give a very accurate idea as to how long it has been there. Whitaker’s job is how dead bodies decompose. I’d make a Lib Dem joke, but that would be cruel.