Cable will be given front-row seat on election battlebus

The Liberal Democrat party hopes to exploit the popularity of its deputy leader, Vince Cable, at the general election by giving him a central role in the campaign and encouraging him to stray beyond his current economic remit.

Mr Cable and the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, will tour the country together – appearing as a two-man team – rather than heading off in different directions. Party strategists believe this will demonstrate that the Lib Dems are offering a combination of youth and experience.

Mr Clegg's allies insist he is happy with the arrangement and is determined to present a variety of well-known faces to the electorate in the poll expected next spring. He hailed his Treasury spokesman yesterday for being "in a different league" from the "juvenile point-scoring" of shadow Chancellor George Osborne.

Planning has already begun to give Mr Cable a central role in the campaign. One senior Lib Dem said: "Nick, of course, is the leader. But we will be talking about the 'Nick and Vince' show. Vince is much more than just a deputy in name. They are already working closely together on policy and are comfortable with that."

The Lib Dems' three previous leaders – Lord Ashdown, Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell – will also be prominent in the campaign. Older MPs say the strategy will echo the "gang of four" – Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers – who founded the Social Democratic Party.

Others will have less-happy memories of the coming together of the "two Davids" – Owen and Steel – to front the SDP-Liberal Alliance in the 1987 general election campaign.

There were said to be tensions last year between Mr Clegg and his deputy as Mr Cable received wall-to-wall coverage during the banking crisis. But the Lib Dem leader has performed strongly over Afghanistan and resettlement rights for the Gurkhas and in calling for the retirement of Michael Martin as Speaker.

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