Debate Sketch: Did you hear Mandelson praising Clegg?

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The Independent Online

There was a slight sense of sulphur in the air in the Manchester media room; surely the Iceland volcano couldn't have got here so quickly? No, it was Peter Mandelson gliding into the hall.

The debate was drawing to a close when the spinners started coming in. Their job was to tell us what we'd just seen for ourselves. This is the secondary market in politics and the place suddenly looked like the Chicago futures exchange. Crushes of people round Vince Cable, George Osborne, Peter Mandelson, Rory Bremner – not Bremner, it must have been Paddy Ashdown. And what was Nick Clegg doing in with us, he'd just been in another building altogether, Lord he'd aged – no, no, it was Alastair Campbell when you looked more closely.

We'd had Charlie Whelan in earlier. He came in and put his dark glasses on. We couldn't listen to anyone wearing shades.

The cameramen rucked and scrummed, lights flashed, microphones shoved, sketch writers cackled. Who was saying "Shouted down, the only new leader in the mix," it must have been a Liberal but there was nothing to see except shoulders, chins and mobile phones.

George Osborne had more attention than he's ever had. He needs to look like he's enjoying it more.

We couldn't hear what Mandelson was saying because of some booming voice in my ear. "He couldn't give the same guarantees." It was Gordon still talking while his deputy was giving us a simultaneous translation.

This will go on all night, long after our deadlines and bedtimes.

Did you hear how Cameron says "proply", it'll cost him 5 per cent at the polls. No, the way he said "black man" shows he's cool with it.

Did you see how Clegg looked straight into the camera? Brilliant. How he was making a connection directly with the audience. No, he was staring at people in their own homes? Like an intruder, like a peeping Tom, like a psycho! He was stalking us!

And the other brilliant thing Clegg did, he was calling people by their names – that was so warm and human. No, if Clegg used one more Christian name I'd take out a restraining order.

Gordon was well on the top of his game, on top of every issue, master of every brief. He rattled Cameron, got in there under his ribs two or three times. Yes, and couldn't stop smirking each time in that sly little way he has. And the way he kept saying there were three things he had to tell us, and then he said, "There are three questions I have to answer," and he asked them of himself. The man's on the spectrum.

How can you say that? He said taking money out of the economy would cost "good people their jobs". Any warmer and he'd be smoking!

NO, Cameron! He actually engaged with the questions, the kid who asked about education, about being over-examined and under-taught, Gordon just said how schools had improved and exams were important and standards and inspections but Cameron understood it was about creativity, and losing sight of the soul of education – no but Clegg asked him a question and mocked the rules that didn't allow him to reply, he mocked the rules!

And Clegg's killer line, "The more they attack each other, the more they sound the same!" That's 5 per cent right there. He was just shouting from the sidelines, and did you hear Mandelson praising Clegg? No, but only because he can crush him. No, but. Yes but. It was all well worth it.

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