Something about this smoking confession stinks
Desperate to appear cooler than the office-supplies manager he fundamentally is, Nick Clegg has outed himself as a Smoker.
If David Cameron wandered out of a high-end knitwear catalogue, Nick Clegg must surely have been torn out of a brochure flogging office supplies. He would appear nowhere to more advantage than between a printer and shredder, grinning as if his life depended on it.
But as it is, the Lib Dem leader is now governing the country, with fast-sinking poll ratings and audible teeth-gnashing from his own back benches, so he must desperately feel the need to look more interesting. To this end, he has now exposed himself on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs as a secret smoker.
Now, in part, this is clearly a ploy to look like Barack Obama, leader of the free world, all round Johnny Cool Man, and closet puffer. I’m waiting for Clegg’s follow-up confession to having done a bit of blow, and expect it will emerge when he appears on Piers Morgan circa 2015, fulsomely weeping about his doomed relationship with Dave, in the manner of Cheryl Cole lamenting that cheating charmer ex-hubby of hers, Ashley.
It’s not news that politicians will use an appearance on Desert Island Discs to do a bit of deft spinning. But they usually do it through their music choices. From Margaret Thatcher’s cringing use of ‘Two Little Boys Had Two Little Toys’ to evangelise on the benefits of sharing to John Major’s choice of Frank Sinatra’s ‘The Best is Yet to Come’ while he was still in office, there’s always some sort of message to be got over – even if, like Boris Johnson, who chose the theme tune to the cricket and ‘Start Me Up’ by the Rolling Stones, you just sort of want to look cool before the rest of the people in your age bracket. But Clegg’s smoking revelation is probably the first time that a politician has had the nous to use his ‘luxury item’ to the same purpose – Clegg’s not the PR industry’s PR man of the year for nothing, you know.
Since that schoolboy error a few years ago, in which he told Piers in an interview for GQ that he had slept with ‘up to 30’ women and was duly allotted the name ‘Cleggover’, the deputy PM really hasn’t put a foot wrong, media-wise. There he is, the supposedly acceptable face of the Lib-Con coalition, the sort of man who you’d trust to sell you staples, a man who now turns out to like Prince and Radiohead and Shakira, a man like you, a man with peccadilloes, a man who likes nothing more than a smouldering fag whilst contemplating the scenery.
‘I can just imagine, as the sun goes down, sitting there with my beard flowing down to my knees just puffing away at a cigarette’, he told Desert Island Discs presenter Kirsty Young. ‘I know I shouldn’t say this and it’s a terrible thing.’
Oh it’s a terrible thing indeed. A very terrible thing these days. My late beloved nan would have to light one Lambert & Butler off the end of another just to give her the strength to get through the endless stream of public health advertisements before Murder, She Wrote started up again. Smokers are increasingly encouraged to think of themselves as repellent individuals, addicts to ‘cancer sticks’. Smoking these days is so demonised that a single picture of Britney Spears having a crafty fag while her children play nearby is treated with the sort of horror suited to photographs of her beating them with coat hangers.
Fag-smoking is probably less socially acceptable these days than smoking weed or doing ecstasy – both of which Clegg probably would have liked to admit to also. (Such admissions might have made him seem more Lib Dem. After selling his soul to the Conservatives, and having his heart gorged on by George Osborne, and in the absence of any photographs of him wearing sandals, how on earth are his grassroots supposed to recognise him these days?) The adrift Clegg is clearly borrowing the patina of cool that the inveterate fag smoker has – think all those roll-ups between dead movie stars’ fingers that the anti-smoking zealots are on a quest to airbrush out of history – without being out and proud, and actively hounded, like poor, punished, proper smokers.
Yes, something about Clegg’s confession smells funny – and it’s not the waft of his Silk Cut.
Emily Hill is a reporter on the Londoner’s Diary at the Evening Standard. Visit her personal website here.
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