Rebecca Tyrrel: 'It is easy to picture Nick Clegg sobbing at his desk, listening to a requiem'

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Who knew that no gift Nick Clegg could receive today for his 44th birthday could delight him as much as the one Charles Kennedy gave him five years ago? On Clegg's 39th birthday, Kennedy quit as Liberal Democrat leader after receiving a letter demanding his resignation signed by 25 of his colleagues, a certain future Deputy Prime Minister among them. Then, Sir Menzies Campbell having been quickly tidied away a year and bit later, Clegg took over himself.

"Beware what you wish for" is what that thrusting young signatory will be saying to himself today. Had Clegg foreseen that last month the bookmaker Paddy Power would make him 16/1 to burst into tears during the House of Commons debate on David Cameron's European veto, he'd have begged Kennedy to carry on indefinitely, however sozzled, and spare him ever being woken at 4am with difficult news from Brussels.

In the event, anyone who accepted Paddy Power's bet had to tear up the ticket. So did those who took the 12/1 that he would put his hands over his ears during the Prime Minister's speech, or the 40/1 that he would run out of the House of Commons screaming.

Although the bookie did offer odds against Clegg blowing a raspberry at Cameron (20-1) and making rude hand gestures behind his back (25-1), the one thing it didn't quote a price for was him not showing up at all.

No one but the man himself knows exactly what he was doing during that debate. The official line was that he was in his office catching up with his "security briefings" (security blanket more like).

It is also possible that he was sobbing. By his own admission he takes criticism to heart. ("Well look, I'm a human being, I'm not a punch bag," he said after the tuition fees disaster. "I've of course got feelings"), and weeps at the drop of a hat (particularly to music). So it is very easy to picture him at his desk that day, listening to a requiem mass.

If anyone wishes to give him a less toxic birthday present today than Charlie Kennedy's of five years ago, there may still be time to ask for a music request; a hit from 1963 that will double up when the time comes for a Lib Dem theme tune – "It's My Party and I'll Cry if I Want To".

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