The Sketch: Contender Chris must give more Bing Crosby and less Noel Coward

And when it came to the Alternative Vote campaign – "I for one thought the vilification of Nick Clegg was appalling," Chris Huhne declared roundly to conference. "There was no briefing about his sanity or sexuality. It was half-hearted, uninspired, and totally lacking in real venom. Worse than appalling, incompetent! You just can't trust the Tories to do anything right!" He didn't quite put the second part exactly like that. Not in quite those words. I'm not sure he'd ever take us so deeply into his confidence.

He has got a nice voice though. There's a caressing lower register as it smoothes itself round your sceptical defences. It goes, as Bing Crosby once said dropping half an octave, "right down there where the money is". The higher pitch where he goes for intensity, to show he really means what he's saying – it's a bit Noel Coward up there. He's better off down in the comforting level where he can tempt an audience to believe he knows for a fact that what he says is the case.

But what he says looks very different from how it sounds. When you see it in print – for example "cutting carbon is essential to the survival of mankind as a species" – you do think that a man who can believe that can believe anything. Nonetheless, he is a contender to lead the Lib Dems into a Clegg-free future. He cleverly suggests his department is going to engineer a recovery with a "green industrial revolution" and that we'll go from "fossil fuel smokestack to low carbon cashback in a generation". That didn't get the laugh it deserved.

And maybe that was because people were taking it seriously. Chris Huhne was telling us he has the economic vision to lead us out of this mess. And the political position as well. "We must be doing something right," he said, "or something left." They laughed at that, and applauded.

Nick Clegg wouldn't have laughed or applauded. He would have thought: "See if you can run the Lib Dems from a prison cell, mate." That's not impossible of course. They do have free mobile phones in prisons now.

Huhne came off the stage, touched his new partner on the arm, and looked around a little hesitantly for a way out. He opened an Exit door and wandered into the darkness.





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