The Sketch: Ming's winning way with hand signals

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The Independent Online

First there was the photo-montage of MPs. Conference showed what a representative body they were: a clear majority of delegates clearly didn't recognise a clear majority of the pictures. Some got absolutely no applause at all. Then there were photos of Ming as a young man. God, time is cruel. Driving music accompanied Ming running (he opened his legs and showed his class), Ming in his wig, looking like Derry Irvine. Ming with his delicious bride. The thumping electronics took us back into the nostalgic 1980s.

But then, to show what an innovator he was, he gave us a new gesture. He stood on stage gravely, about to do something, and quite suddenly, his hands went up in the air. Like a surgeon who's washed and is now waiting for the nurse to snap on the gloves. The nurse didn't appear so he shook his hands and repeated the gesture.

This went on for quite a while. He stood, he stared waxily, he shook the water off his hands at us. Three-quarters of an hour later he finished speaking and became an aircraft-carrier landing master, holding up his paddles. "To me. To me. Keep coming."

He walked through the crowd and turned at the door and there they were again. A cricket umpire signalling a six! And another six! If you were standing in the wrong place you'd be lifted off your heels with his forefinger up your nostril.

This is probably by the way. He gave a thoroughly competent speech and kept his temper despite persistent interruptions. They clapped the end of every paragraph and sometimes the end of every sentence. He had one good joke about Hurricane Gordon over the Azores ("a great grey depression sucking everything to the centre"). Any tips? He shouldn't pause too long, his well-wishers fear he's passed on. Any criticism? Not a word.

His speech did everything he needed it to. What more could they want? What he didn't say was that Liberals are going to be much more important than we've yet discerned.

As Chris Rennard told the Independent fringe meeting, in the Lords, Liberals are invariably on the winning side. The government votes one way, the Tories vote the other and whomever the Liberals back wins. If the polls are correct, this is going to be the case in the Commons. Whomever they vote with will win. Well done Ming for keeping that quiet (he learnt restraint from Neil Kinnock).

But he knows the toxic thrill of power (power, do you hear?) will suddenly course through his noble, well-meaning, high-minded party. Does that mean we'll not have identity cards? Ha! It means we'll have proportional representation AND identity cards. It's "the transformation from a party of opposition to a party of government". And we'll remember sadly how nice Liberals used to be, in the old days.

sketch@simoncarr.co.uk

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