Ian Burrell: Skeleton of Gaddafi is dragged out of Clegg's closet

Sunday 23 October 2011 00:47

Meet "grumpy" Nick Clegg, the "son of a rich banker" and "ideological extremist". That's Nick Clegg, the leader of the "great deception", who has "not had a proper job" since he left university and claimed £2.49 in parliamentary expenses for a cake tin.

Readers of the Tory press are being introduced to a very different figure from the self-assured performer who emerged so dramatically from the political margins during last week's inaugural prime ministerial television debate. Viewers polled after the event commented widely that Mr Clegg had appeared refreshingly open and sincere in comparison to his political rivals. Hostile newspapers have gone into overdrive in an effort to correct that impression.

David Cameron and Gordon Brown might have responded by love bombing the Lib Dem leader but the right-wing prints have other weapons of choice. The Sun, which has been Mr Cameron's greatest, though not apparently effective, cheerleader, prefers the journalistic equivalent of mustard gas. Yesterday it reported "five facts" about Mr Clegg's past: the Lib Dem leader was a sleazy toff of dodgy foreign ancestry who had not done a day's graft in his life, except when he was working for Colonel Gaddafi. Mr Clegg, it said, had been "rapped" in the MPs' expenses scandal for claiming £910 for gardening and £1.50 for napkins. His party took money from a fraudster, he once worked for a lobbying firm that represented Libya, and he has an unhealthy admiration for Europe.

"Friends say he is attracted to a Euro superstate because he is only a quarter English," it noted, "with a Dutch mother, a half-Russian father and a Spanish wife." In an accompanying leader, The Sun predicted that Mr Clegg's recent success is "the political equivalent of a holiday romance".

The Daily Telegraph is at pains these days to stress that it is no longer "The Torygraph", though daily it urges Mr Cameron to "show what he's made of".

The paper's way of addressing Cleggmania has so far been dominated by its fascination with the Lib Dem leader's time at Westminster School. "I was Clegg's 'fag' at school, says Theroux" followed the revelation on the BBC's The One Show that Louis Theroux, a friend of Mr Clegg's, used to wake him up when they were fellow boarders.

The next day, Mr Clegg's schooldays were elevated to front-page news in the Telegraph with great outpourings on his accomplishments in the inter-house tennis tournament and agonising over the improprieties of fagging.

In the eyes of readers of the Daily Mirror, such details of Mr Clegg's privileged education may have been damaging. But for the Telegraph's audience this must have read like a seal of approval, especially given that its correspondents (digital editor Edward Roussel and contributor Harry Mount) are both Westminster old boys.

In such circumstances, it falls to the Daily Mail to raise its fists for the Tories. Yesterday it pushed forward Leo McKinstry to attack Mr Clegg's "most cynical" policy on immigration. But the real war cry was in its final leader article. "Over coming days, because so little is known about the [Liberal Democrat] party's plans, the Mail will be focusing on them in detail." Things are about to get nasty.

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