Do they work their fingers to the bone trying to alleviate the economic crisis that, according to George Osborne, is far from over?
Talk on the phone to Putin and Yanukovych in an attempt to coerce them into stopping the carnage in the Ukraine?
Rack their brains figuring out how to bolster our flood defences to avoid subsequent calamities, like the one devastating the West Country?
Concentrate on repelling the EU’s attempts to reduce the United Kingdom to a loose conglomerate of EU fiefdoms?
Actually none of the above, as I can testify under oath on a stack of Bibles. For I’ve just come home from my tennis club, and guess who was swatting fuzzy yellow balls on an adjacent court?
Nick Clegg, our Deputy Prime Minister, having a hit with his personal coach under the watchful eye of two athletic young men, each sporting a bomber jacket bulging on the left side of his chest.
A few observations are in order. First, considering that Nick lives next door and fancies himself a tennis player, it’s not surprising that he’d finally join the club (he was turned down in the past, but unfortunately not for any political reasons).
Second, he plays tennis the way he governs the country – trying to look good irrespective of any results. It’s as if in both capacities he performs not as an active participant but as an impersonator of one.
In terms of tennis, someone must have told Nick that good players hit the ball hard. Corollary to that, as he must also have been informed, is the desideratum of keeping the ball in the court not to lose a point every time you swing a racquet.
If his skill doesn’t allow him to achieve both objectives at once, any decent player would take some pace off the ball to keep the rally going. Not our Nick.
His desire to look good far outstrips his technique, but that’s just fine with our new club member. The ball comes to his forehand, he takes the racquet back (too late, incidentally) – crack! – the ball hits the back fence. Backhand now – bang! – bottom of the net. And so forth.
I’ve observed over a lifetime that the way a man plays games reveals more about his personality than anything he says. Sure enough, Nick governs the country the same way he plays tennis: ineptly, with total disregard for results, but hoping to fake his way into making people think he’s good at what he does.
Quite apart from that, those players one ever sees on the courts during weekdays fall into two categories only: retired or self-employed. Which one is our new club member Nick?
I suppose in a way both, at least as far as his self-perception is concerned. His birth and upbringing entitle him to a life of leisure, and what better way to spend a sunny Friday afternoon than hitting a few tennis balls with a coach?
(The coach, incidentally, was just driving the balls at Nick without offering any words of advice. He must have learned from experience there would be no point.)
Of course there’s the slight hitch in that, on the surface of it, Nick is neither retired nor self-employed. In fact he’s employed by us to run our country. But never mind the substance: it’s all about image nowadays, which starts with self-image.
A few weeks ago, Dave Cameron was talking on the phone to someone who was having a long lunch with Nick at a restaurant. Displaying the jocular insouciance that comes so naturally to the alumni of the Bullingdon Club, Dave asked his interlocutor to tell Nick he’s “a f***ing idler”. And there I was, thinking I’d never agree with Dave on anything.
Aren’t you happy how your tax money is being spent? I hate to be beastly about a fellow tennis player, but in this case I’m willing to make an exception.
Now, in common with Martin Luther King, I have a dream, though mine is very modest. I have a dream that one day I’ll be playing doubles against Nick. And I have a dream that I get a short lob with him parked close to the net on the other side. And I have a dream that on that occasion I’ll be able to hit a smash even harder than my usual 80mph-plus…
Why, Nick would be singing soprano for the rest of his life, but at least he’d have a good excuse to skive off at his day job. He’d feel good, I’d feel good and, on balance, the country would be better off.