Move over Keanu, Paddy's on screen

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The Independent Online
These must be balmy days for theatrical set designers. As if the proliferation of telly shows requiring bizarre sets was not enough (have you seen the rocks, rattan huts and swimming pool in Man, Oh, Man?), there are the party conferences to cater for. For some reason the Lib Dems decided to order a nice little number based on an Imperial Roman theme.

So, at one end of the cavernous hall here at Brighton, they have built a votive temple in grey marble-like plywood.There are four pillars, from behind which a judicious use of fabric and lighting causes a golden glow to emanate. What mystery lay inside this shrine we were shortly to find out.

For today was leader's speech day. Even if you hadn't been alerted to this fact by the sudden appearance of hundreds of Liberal Democrat delegates, who had somehow missed out on the debates, the giant screen which had been lowered next to the temple would have given the game away.

The lights were dimmed, the show began. We knew (because we had been told often enough) that the Lib Dems loathe the presidentialism of new Labour, with its concentration on T Blair. So what would their epic movie contain? An illustrated lecture on the benefits of the single currency for exchange rate stability and transactional costs? Alas, no. You don't have a leader as ruggedly attractive as Paddy, as crinkle-smiled, as blond and well-pectoralled, and not make a motion picture about him. So there he was, gadding about the country listening to people, in a film entitled, appropriately, "a leader who listens".

Because this was a movie, and because this is a newspaper whose readers are cultured and well-educated, I decided to decode the metatext. So I noted Paddy the kindly patriarch, who was much in evidence, crinkling at kiddies and lending to ordinary citizens an ear that can detect an incoming shell at three miles. Paddy the action man was there too, boarding trawlers, digging coal and sweeping a floor.

But most intriguing of all was Beefcake Ashdown, a deliberate juxtaposition of images created so as to leave an impression of immense potency and allure. How else can we explain the firework that went off in front of his groin, the gushing hosepipe held at the hip, the lasciviously slow removal of the jacket? Don't tell me this was accidental - this was Mapplethorpe Paddy on exhibition.

Then, suddenly the screen went white and it was over. From between the pillars strode the hero himself; a simple military man, handed the laurels of leadership, reminding us about courage and patriotism. For what seemed an age he gave it to his party straight; made them face up to some hard truths. They were wonderful, he told them. Far better than the others. Nicer. More honest. Better at things. So it would be good if they won lots of seats at the election. It is to the credit of this party, that the delegates took these difficult thoughts on the chin, and still applauded their courageous, virile leader.