Three days in to Liberal Democrat party conference, and the strain of endless speeches, fringe meetings and late night drinking is starting to show. Especially, it seems, for Nick Clegg, who gave a somewhat grumpy performance during a 45-minute long Q&A session this afternoon.
He began, quite early on, by mocking a lack of follow up questions to one of his answers, saying:
What docility! This is like a North Korean conference meeting.
It was a reasonably well-received jibe, but some of his later comments went down less well.
First, he joshed a questioner asking about the HS2 high speed rail line by pointing out that he came from Banbury, one of the areas likely to be affected by such a development, effectively accusing him of nimbyism. But the joke had the effect of causing embarrassment, undermining the questioner and degrading the question.
Then, unbelievably, just as he began one answer, he turned to the questioner and said:
Chris, are you listening?
Aware that he suddenly sounded like a teacher, or worse, a playground bully, he joked:
Sorry, I don’t want to seem like a headmaster but…
But the damage was done.
It was the kind of performance that might have gone down well in the House of Commons, delighting the Tories and Lib Dem government ministers by robustly putting down a rebellious backbencher (and indeed it has delighted some commentators on the right). But to this audience, the party’s groundtroops, who have paid many hundreds of pounds and in many cases, travelled hundreds of miles, to be here, it looked ungracious and unnecessary.