Donald Macintyre's Sketch: All bets are off as Nick Clegg bamboozles Nick Ferrari with charm and innocence

How a pre-election bet left Clegg looking like the honourable man

Just before the election, LBC presenter Nick Ferrari bet Nick Clegg (on air) £50 that he would not return as Deputy Prime Minister, and gave his stake to the Liberal Democrat leader.

On 25 June, during his first post-election interview, Clegg honourably produced the £50. This dialogue then followed:

Ferrari: “That’s the fifty I gave you.”

Clegg: “Yeah… you’re not going to double it up are you?”

Ferrari: “Well, normally a fifty pound wager…”

Clegg: “Well, let’s give you back your money.”

How touching is that? We think of politicians as hard-bitten, cynical creatures. But really they’re innocent unworldly folk, happily ignorant of the baser activities of mankind – like gambling, and the notion that if you lose a bet you normally fork out some of your own cash.

This innocence appeared to extend to other aspects of his fall from office. Less than two months before the election, his would-be successor Tim Farron hyper-unhelpfully attacked Clegg’s U-turn on tuition fees – “integrity is important” – and said coalition with the Tories would tarnish the Lib Dem “brand” for a generation. But it was “nonsensical” to suggest Farron had been “mutinous,” said Clegg. “Tim’s been a good friend and a colleague to me.” And on Vince Cable’s role in an admittedly Keystone Cops-esque bungled coup attempt on him? “Vince and I get on very well.”

Or possibly not so much innocent as philosophical. Sure, on that grim election night, “the first thing I do is reach for a cigarette, not having smoked for about two and a half months. I have stopped again, by the way. So don’t worry.”

And the new government did not have a mandate for the “illiberal punitive things” on which it had now embarked. No, he would not be playing any more tennis with Dave.

But the Lib Dems would “bounce back” – after all, it had 20,000 new members. To judge by one of them, Lesley Ann from Staines, they had joined out of deep guilt. She confessed to have “tactically” voted Tory to stop Labour but now she was campaigning actively “in the Liberal Democrat arena” and just wanted to say “thank you” to Nick. You wondered wildly if Nick had slipped Lesley Ann the £50 he owed Ferrari.

But what now? Since he can hardly, as an eighth of his parliamentary party, force a by-election by resigning as an MP, is he a statesman trapped in a backbencher’s body?

No, he was “delighted” to represent his “wonderful” Sheffield Hallam constituency. For the next 10 years? “I’ll just take one parliament at a time.” And what, Ferrari asked, about a “big, powerful, top job in Europe”? “I’ve got absolutely no plans to suddenly sort of disappear in a puff of smoke, you know.” And not just because he’s given up cigarettes! Again.

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