The Sketch: A perfect occasion, but let's consider adding slime and rats next year

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The Independent Online

First, let's scotch the rumours. What a dry wit he's got. Arf arf. Enough innuendo: Charles Kennedy looks a lot less hung over than he has done; charming, nimble, almost capable. He's in good shape. Excuse the note of surprise.

First, let's scotch the rumours. What a dry wit he's got. Arf arf. Enough innuendo: Charles Kennedy looks a lot less hung over than he has done; charming, nimble, almost capable. He's in good shape. Excuse the note of surprise.

To continue this positive vein - you think I'll never keep it up and I dare say you're right - all sketch writers agree the event was unimprovable. The editor of The Independent in conversation with the Lib Dem leader in front of a conference crowd. Having said that, as politicians say, a suggestion for next time: have Mr Kennedy on a hinged seat over a chute down to a vat of slime?

"Is Liberty more important than Equality?" That's the question from our sketch writer. The right answer stacks up the votes, but the actual answer has the leader splashing about wiping gunk out of his eyes with his fins! Three wrong answers in a row and we'll find a use for the electro-shock machine and our bag of rats!

The Independent's editor conducted the interview in a way best described as magisterial yet amiable, calm yet authoritative. A peerage surely. Two perhaps.

Charlie's first answer was the best because it was the worst. It was the glorious, seamless drivel politicians talk when they're thinking of something to say. What was the big idea for the Lib Dems? he was asked. Was there a big idea? He said that he didn't like big ideas. That Thatcher had big ideas. But having said that, his big idea was the "big anxiety people had about doubt and anxiety".

That's the stuff. Global warming. My pension. My personal property. International terrorism. Addressing people in their own language. It was Blairite in its verblessness. The Plain English Award was a good thing. To "elucidate, or enunciate ideas without reducing things to soundbites". Local income tax, "here's the proposal and here's the price tag". Like Iraq. "The application goes beyond the issue." Quite.

Simon Kelner asked about his spending plans, in the event of the economy slowing down. He told us there was a 10 to 20 per cent margin in their budget. Considering the scale of public spending that's £50bn to £100bn. Not an inconsiderable sum. Prudent. On purpose.

The Lib Dems, like the Tories, are still four or five years behind Labour, in rhetoric and policy. Given the luxury of opposition this is inexcusable. Vince Cable mentioned "tough choices" (them again!) four times, and peaked with the observation that he wanted to embrace economic freedom and social justice. Five years too late! "I reject the idea of left and right," he went on. Ten years late!

No wonder they're going back to Gladstone for inspiration. At least the Liberals seem to be prevailing over the Democrats. It's the first step in a long, long journey.

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