In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

First 100 days: David Cameron and Nick Clegg lose buddy movie script

Posted by seumasach on August 18, 2010

Marina Hyde


18th August, 2010

Can it really only be only three months since David Cameron and Nick Clegg gave that wisecracking joint press conference in the Downing Street garden, catapulting their take on bromance into the mainstream electoral landscape? “Prime minister,” inquired a reporter that day. “Do you now regret that when once asked what your favourite joke was, you replied ‘Nick Clegg’?”

“You said that?” Nick queried.

“I’m afraid I did once,” played up David.

“I’m off,” Nick deadpanned, pretending to stalk away.

“Come back!” bleated David stagily.

Mmm. Half close your eyes and you could have been watching one of the great buddy movies. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Road to Morocco. Tango & Cash.

Earlier, as they passed over the threshold of No 10 together, Cameron had put his hand on Clegg’s back with an amusingly proprietorial air, only for Clegg to deploy the move right back at him, before glancing round to check the photographers had caught the moment.

It was all adorably reminiscent of the scene near the end of Top Gun, where Maverick and Iceman have just won world war III somewhere over the Pacific, and their previous animosity has graduated into a near-flirtatious camaraderie. “You can be my wingman any time,” smiles Ice. “Bullshit,” grins Maverick. “You can be mine.”

Alas, poor Cleggeron (the PM and his deputy were duly bestowed with their own Brangelina-style joint handle). It would not be long before alternative movie comparisons were being made.

In the dog days of July that archetypal metrosexual Tory David Davis was in a Southwark bar called the Boot and Flogger – well of course he was – where he was overheard describing Cameron and Clegg’s relationship as the “Brokeback Coalition”. Primarily, given that Davis was apparently repeating a Lord Ashcroft line, the vignette functioned as a reminder that some senior Tories still operate on a wit setting one notch up from honking “THEY R GAYLORDS LOL!@!!%!”

But if even the terminally artless wing of the Conservative party are now viewing the coalition through the prism of Hollywood movies, the rest of us will be miles ahead. We can see that what we are dealing with is a malfunctioning buddy movie.

Like it or not, polls indicate Cameron has improved in stature, while Clegg – the breakout star of the election – has failed to grow into his role after playing that impossible hand to parlay his party into government. It’s a bit like in Star Wars, when Han Solo ends up stealing the movie off that nebbish Luke Skywalker, despite George Lucas clearly not having meant him to.

No one could deny Clegg has made obvious attempts to carve out a niche for himself in the set-up. For a while, he seemed to be affecting the pose of the crazy one in a buddy cop film. This guy literally doesn’t care! He’s going to stand at the dispatch box and pin an illegal war on Jack Straw’s ass!

Unfortunately, while these kinds of unconventional methods work well for Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, in Nick’s line of work they required the scrambling of civil servants to explain he was speaking in a personal capacity, with Downing Street declaring tightly: “These are long-held views of the deputy prime minister.” Which is Whitehall for: “Goddammit, Clegg! I am sick of defending your screwball antics to the commissioner! You’re on traffic duty!”

Ultimately, though, Clegg’s apparent maverick strategy has failed because Cameron has doubled down on him in the brash young hothead role. Pakistan? Two-faced exporters of terror, according to the PM. Britain? Junior partner to the United States in the fight against Jerry, even before they’d entered it. Gaza? A prison camp. Iran? Packing a nuclear weapon. Who’s Axel Foley now, Nick?

Perhaps most excruciating was Clegg’s outing in Nick Robinson’s documentary about the making of the coalition – a behind-the-music look at events of 37 minutes ago (I paraphrase slightly). As Clegg sloppily revealed he’d tricked Cameron into misleading his own backbenchers, one could only imagine a bemused Hollywood producer demanding: “Wait – why are people supposed to root for this guy?”

If he ever started out as the Sundance Kid, Clegg has ended up the unintentionally irksome comedy sidekick – the coalition’s Jar Jar Binks. The most recent YouGov poll placed Lib Dem support at 12%, while this week Clegg failed to pull off insouciance as he blustered: “I’m not acting prime minister … I’m holding the fort for a couple of weeks.”

An antsy distinction which somehow contrives to place the stewardship of this country at the level of Gareth Keenan’s ill-disguised anxieties about his role in The Office. He likes to think of himself as “assistant regional manager”; the actual boss regards him as “assistant TO the regional manager”.

But what of Downing Street’s regional manager? Well, with that same poll placing support for his party at 42%, he won’t just be feeling slightly more relaxed as we move into the next reel. He’ll be convinced he can carry a movie on his own

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