The Emperor's New Clothes (23/09/12)

To be ridiculed is fatal to the career of a public figure, or so it is always assumed...


What a great idea it must have seemed to Nick Clegg, as he lay on a sunlounger at his in-laws' villa in Spain this summer. I can almost see him batting away a protest from no-nonsense Miriam, glass of Rioja in hand, that he would look foolish. She was right, of course. The Lib Dem leader's video apology for his tuition fees pledge drew ridicule. Then, when it was put to music and his words Auto-tuned into "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm suh-uh-sorry", lambast was heaped upon ridicule.

Poor Nick. On the eve of a tricky autumn conference too, with his poll ratings zooming down faster than a seagull swooping on a plate of chips on Brighton beach. We know when a politician has committed an indelible gaffe: think of Neil Kinnock falling over backwards on that same beach, back in 1983. Remember David Miliband's banana? Of course you do. When, appearing on Today in the dying weeks of his leadership, Iain Duncan Smith started laughing instead of answering questions. No going back.

But maybe Clegg's quick-footed decision to agree to's version being released to iTunes rescued him. He showed he can laugh at himself, and, what's more, the message has been hammered home by the song. Clegg should also take comfort from Waitrose's skirmish with satire last week: asking Twitter users to say why they shop there, using the hashtag #WaitroseReasons, was asking for trouble, as most responses poked fun at the store's posh customers. Yet Waitrose later tweeted a thank you for all the replies. It has won some publicity, just as sales are down. Every Cloudy Bay Sauvignon has a silver lining.

Clegg can also take heart from his fellow Cabinet minister, Jeremy Hunt. Before the Olympics, he was tipped for the sack after the scandal surrounding BSkyB. Then, hours before the Opening Ceremony, he accidentally hit a spectator with a bell that went flying off its handle. The clip became a YouTube hit, and the nation started to warm to him again. And let's not forget Boris Johnson swinging from a zip-wire: he has built his entire career on an inverted pyramid of piffle. As Adam Ant said, ridicule is nothing to be scared of.

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