Cameron and Clegg – The New ‘Best Friends Forever’?

After the very positive body language displayed during their morning handshake outside 10 Downing Street, Cameron and Clegg faced the daunting task of their first ever dual press conference as Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of the coalition government. Daunting, it should have been, however instead, they came together as a surprisingly jovial double-act. What could instantly be observed was just how relaxed they were in each other’s company – they acted like they were long-lost friends, and seemed to have forgotten that up until yesterday, they were fierce rivals.

Their body language throughout the conference showed the fundamentals of a good relationship: mirroring behaviour, moving from social space into personal space, a strong reciprocated gaze, and attentiveness when the other person was talking. In addition to demonstrating enormously positive body language, the leaders also managed to inject some humour and ‘play along with each other’ in what could have been a very serious event.

When Channel Five’s Andy Bell asked the Prime Minister if he regretted once answering: “Nick Clegg” when asked what his favourite joke was, David Cameron winced at being ‘caught out’, however, managed to turn this embarrassing moment into something of a comedy sketch (with the co-operation of his partner-in-crime of course). As soon as this question was asked, Clegg took a big gulp of water – presumably to prepare himself for a potentially ‘dry mouthed’ and awkward situation.
“Did you really say that?” Clegg asked.
“I’m afraid I did once,” Cameron answered sheepishly, reaching his arm out towards Clegg – almost as if to say: “take my hand, I’m sorry” (before squirming profusely). This caused roaring laughter in the audience and Nick Clegg shook his head and looked down in ‘mock disappointment’ before stating: “I’m off, I’m off”. To emphasise this point, he signalled over his shoulder with his thumb before walking away from the lectern.
Subsequently, to finish off this slapstick sketch, Cameron yelped: “Come baaaaaack, ” with his palms facing upwards in a pleading gesture, before using a beckoning gesture to get Clegg to come back.
Clegg and Cameron worked brilliantly as a ‘double act’ in this example and Clegg continued to smile and chuckle to himself during Cameron’s answering of the question. Cameron concluded his answer on a light-hearted note by saying: “…and if it means swallowing some humble pie, and if it means eating some of your words…I cannot think of a more excellent diet”.

During the conference, the level of attentiveness from both the Prime Minister and his deputy was a key factor in demonstrating just how united they were. When Cameron began speaking, Clegg was immediately unaware of any distractions and instead, turned his body to face Cameron and kept the focus on him throughout his speech, rarely looking away. Clegg nodded to show he concurred on strong points such as the reference to the requirement of strong leaders. Additionally, concentration was revealed through Clegg’s furrowed brow, which suggested he had a desire to listen to and process all the information. When it was Clegg’s turn to speak, Cameron reciprocated the attentiveness by turning his body towards him and keeping a likewise direct gaze, nodding at appropriate moments.

During Cameron’s speech, a very important verbal point to pick up on is how he kept referring to ‘we’, for example stating: “we want to say…”. This reinforced their alliance and indicated that even when Cameron was speaking, the ideas he discussed were reflective of both leaders. Clegg’s key phrase: of: “This is what new politics looks like”, was accompanied by his palms facing upwards to (signify his honesty) and a pointing gesture to Cameron. The two leaders clearly understood that in order for the general public to believe in the new government, they must show strength in their unity.

The level of agreement between them was clear not only through their body language but also through short verbal utterances. For example, David Cameron stated he woke up that morning thinking: “This is so much better than the alternative”. Nick Clegg responded with the comment: “yep” and following that, he almost couldn’t contain his happiness. Clegg couldn’t stop smiling and nodding and his lips opened and closed as if he mirroring Cameron’s words. Frequently, at times when Cameron spoke, Clegg repeatedly uttered “yep”, then smiled and turned to Cameron.

A very sincere element of their body language that demonstrated their closeness was how they both kept stretching their arms out towards each other, through the gap in between the lecterns. This was used as an attempt to not only involve the other leader and make it clear that a point was reflective of both of them, but it was also a way of cementing their relationship. When Clegg stated: “Together…that job starts today….”, he raised his eyebrows and nodded at Cameron to certify this. Some of the journalists clearly mocked their ‘new love affair’ through the questions asked, however, instead of being irritated by it, Clegg and Cameron joined in the jokes – making puns themselves such as: “Perhaps we’ll share a car to save on petrol”.

When a tough question was asked about whether agreement will occur between those furthest left and right of the two parties, Cameron immediately ‘passed the buck’ of the difficult question and gestured for Clegg to answer, however, Clegg did not take the bait and instead insisted: “Go on”. It seems the good thing about the relationship between these two politicians is that Clegg isn’t willing to be Cameron’s ‘puppy dog’ and similarly, Cameron accepts that Clegg has a right to cast his opinion and lets him speak.

In terms of dominant gestures, Cameron frequently used his wide-fingered gestures during his speech in order to dominate his territory. Also, he stated: “I’m proud to be here”, and then extended his arms out towards Nick Clegg – which indicated he was also glad to be there with his deputy too. A very sincere gesture Cameron used was when he pointed to his chest and then to the audience when stating: “Power is taken from the politicians and put in the hands of people”. When we touch our chests, it is a subconscious gesture of sincerity and something ‘close to this heart’ and this really shows how genuine Cameron was in his message.

To sum up, the level of ease that the two leaders had with each other was so apparent that it makes us wonder whether David Cameron is actually more comfortable with Nick Clegg than some of the members of his own party. Their blossoming relationship seems to be getting stronger and stronger, so all we can hope for now is that the potency of the new government will be reflective of this.

© 2010 Alicia Drewnicki