The Sketch: Embarrassed? Dave and Nick didn't look it

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The Independent Online

Rose Garden II. From the darling buds of May to the crisp midwinter. How's it gone, then? The PM had called a press conference to talk, in part, about the vulnerable. And look, hello, there was Nick Clegg. Vince was the first and 50th question. Weren't they embarrassed? Did they trust him? Could he bring down the Government? Would he be fired? Did he have an overwrought sense of self-importance or did he indeed have that self-proclaimed "nuclear option"?

Cameron and Clegg told us completely without embarrassment how embarrassed they were. Vince too was embarrassed, as was the Government. However Clegg wasn't in the least embarrassed about being in government with Vince. Cameron for his part was amused at the idea of a Lib Dem being in favour of nuclear weapons.

"I can't count the number of times I've been told this or that issue will blow the Coalition apart," Cameron said. "Europe. Immigration. Welfare. Cuts." But he was right, these arguments that were hailed as damaging splits turn out to be differences of opinion that can be managed by reasonable human beings.

Seeing the two leaders gently disagreeing about this and that looked not just pleasant but necessary. "If we agreed about everything we'd be in the same party," Cameron said.

Maybe it'll come to that, and maybe it won't. There's a fractured and humiliated Cable out on the loose as a natural standard bearer for fractured and humiliated Democrats.

But who can trust the poor sap now? We all heard that "little girl" laugh from his interlocutor on the tape. That told us something about Vince we didn't know before. How can he stay? But where can he go?

The shoulder-to-shoulder relationship between Clegg and Cameron will, for my money, be tested but not strained. The Liberals have humanised the Tories and the Tories have given Liberals power. And between the leaders there is no sense of the abusive relationship between Blair and Brown – or Ed Miliband and Balls.

It looks like they both have greater ambitions for coalition than either will yet admit. Asked more than once whether they'll be campaigning against each other at full throttle Cameron said yes, they would fight as separate parties. Shoring up the Liberals (even letting the Democrats go hang) would keep the Tories in power for a generation. Of course they'll fight as separate parties – but how hard? When tactical losses will work so winningly for them.

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