Nick Clegg appeared on LBC this morning to take part in his first interview since his party’s defeat at the polls. With the host Nick Ferrari taking questions from listeners, Clegg was subjected to a mix of abuse and praise from Londoners.
However, there was one question in particular which struck a nerve with the former Liberal Democrat leader. A caller by the name of Liam asked Clegg if he had personally spoken to each Lib Dem MP who lost their seat in the election:
NC: After the election? Yes I spoke to them all, left messages with them. Liam can I ask why you’re so interested in that?
L: But is it okay to leave a message, or did you actually speak to them?
NC: Some of them I wasn’t able to speak to because they were on holiday, why Liam? Trying to work out why this is of such significance to you.
L: Because of what happened to Charles Kennedy, I was obviously very sad at what happened to Charles. He was a leader of the party at its height a few years ago and to see the 49 MPs lose their seats it must of been for him particularly a devastating night, I really felt what happened after that was absolutely horrific. I just thought when I heard senior Liberal Democrat leaders being interviewed on TV the next morning, it was obvious that people hadn’t actually spoken to Charles. I would have thought in your position it would have been quite easy for you to drive around the country to 49 colleagues and actually
NC: Liam, can I interrupt – and forgive me I’m going to be a little bit brusque here. I pride myself in reaching out to colleagues in time of victory but also defeat. As it happened if you must know — but it’s none of your business — I was in touch with Charles very shortly after the election. He was a close friend and colleague, of mine and if you’re implying somehow that I or other senior members of the Liberal Democrats did not try and reach out to people who suffered defeat, I totally reject that. I find it totally inappropriate of you to imply otherwise.
At which point Nick Ferrari stepped in and Clegg was forced to admit that he had not managed to speak to Charles Kennedy before his death:
NF: And how was Mr Kennedy when you spoke?
NC: Errr… funnily enough I couldn’t… Charles, as I said in my tribute to him in the House of Commons, Charles was an inveterate texter. He was always much better at texting than picking up his phone, I rang him but couldn’t get hold of him on the phone but we texted each other and he was actually — amazingly — resilient and was already thinking about how he would play a role in the European referendum campaign so he was very much looking forward so that only makes the tragedy of his death all the greater.
Meanwhile, Clegg was also taken to task by Ferrari for failing to honour a wager between the two that he would not return as deputy Prime Minister after the election. Clegg insisted he would pay in due course:
NC: I’m here partly with my money, to pay you back. £50 because you did bet me on air
NF: That’s the £50 I gave you
NC: You’re not going to double it up are you
NF: Normally you do on a £50 wager, so I’ve got my stake back
NC: It’s like an instalment isn’t it?
He also confessed that his party’s election defeat led him to take up smoking:
‘First thing I do is reach for a cigarette, not having smoked for about two and a half months. I stopped again, don’t worry – sanity has been restored.’
It seems old habits die hard after all.