Simon Kelner: It's the season of the killer (or toe-curling) joke

  • @Simon_Kelner

It takes a brave man to make a joke, in front of a live audience, for which the punchline is: "So I gave him some Kendal mint cake." But that's exactly what Nick Clegg did last week at the Lib Dem conference, telling a story about how he and the French Prime Minister exchanged gifts. Mr Clegg is a pretty good speaker, and, in private, appears to be game for a laugh. But I don't think that Michael McIntyre need worry just yet.

And I am afraid to say that Mr Clegg's rather poor effort at humour – everyone in the hall, and those watching on television, were waiting for that bit when they are supposed to laugh – was by no means the worst example of a senior Lib Dem striking a false note. Go on to YouTube and look at Sarah Teather's "comedy" routine (pictured): I sincerely doubt whether your toes will be able to withstand the involuntary curling. If the delivery was appalling, and the timing excruciating, the material was even worse. She makes some reference to Strictly Come Dancing, and then says that George Osborne wants to go on the show "to do a line dance". (For those who don't see the high humour in this, it's an allusion to cocaine.) Yes, I agree, it's pathetic.

There will be plenty more of this sort of thing over the next two weeks as Labour and Tories take their turn on stage, and their respective teams of speechwriters attempt to come up with the killer joke that lifts the mood and cuts through to the nation. Probably nothing will be as good as Tony Blair's line of a few years ago, in response to the story that Cherie Blair had made some disobliging remarks about Gordon Brown: "At least I know she's not going to run off with the bloke next door," he said.

I was involved in a discussion on Radio 5 last week about politicians trying to be funny, and the editor of The Spectator, a political seer, said that he thought Margaret Thatcher to be a wonderful gag-meister. This took me aback: I'd never seen the Iron Lady as a comic genius, and even her best one-liner – you know, the one about U-turns – wasn't exactly a knicker-wetter. She did, however, inadvertently say something funny before she went on stage to make her famous speech in which she compared the Lib Dem bird logo to the dead parrot of Monty Python fame. Betraying her lack of knowledge of modern British comedy, she turned to an aide as asked: "Monty Python? Are you sure he's one of us?"