Time to pose different questions

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Two young women exchange their considered political analysis as they heave themselves out of their seats at the end of Nick Clegg’s one-hour set.

“Well I’m certainly sick of hearing it,” says the other.

There lies the Deputy Prime Minister’s problem. He’s here at Ponds Forge’s Skyline Suite for the first of a series of question and answer sessions throughout the country.

He wants to make sure people get the REAL message about what he and the coalition are trying to do.

But the more he says it the less, it seems, people hear it. Either that or they just aren’t listening.

We’ve heard about the deficit debt being ‘credit card bills for our children and grandchildren’, the ‘120 million a day in interest on the debt’ - that’s a primary school a day you know!

We know now that People earning ‘squillions’ in the city will subsidise our children’s University fees and we understand that there are ‘no magic wand solutions’.

Tonight in Sheffield before a 140-strong audience - 200 had to be turned away - Clegg goes through it all again.

A middle aged couple on the back row are a blur of thumbs as they tweet and twitter to the world, a grey-haired chap who earlier asked a question, starts to nod, mission accomplished, into an post-Cleggial kip.

Of course there are other, more pertinent and local questions on businesses, services for children with mental health issues and the so-called Big Society.

Then, as a yell from diving practise echoes up on a whiff of chlorine from downstairs, Clegg shows some real emotion.

“I have for months now been subjected to the most outrageous scaremongering from Labour in Sheffield,” he says animatedly.

“David Blunkett saying we are going into a post-Soviet meltdown where people are going to have to look after themselves. This is nonsense.”

Tweet and Twitter go keypad crazy.

But it’s still the big questions that dominate, student fees, Government cuts, Educational Maintenance Allowance and the Big Society.

Photographers prowl and snap as Clegg comes up with a quip for every query, his performance polished by months of repetition.

It was Eric Morecambe who said that you can take the same act all over the country once.

But when they’ve all heard it, he added, you have to come up with something new.

We’ve all heard it now, even Tweet and Twitter are resting their digits.

We’ve heard all the questions and all the same answers. They’re polished, improved, slightly amended but they’re essentially the same punchlines.

If we want Nick Clegg to come up with some new answers, we need to start asking him some different questions.

Right now, it’s all too easy for him to stick with the same old act.