The Sketch: Of all the party leaders, Ming has the most attractive wife

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The Independent Online

At my time of life, it's a pleasure to see age and experience prevail over youth and enthusiasm. Ming's audience clapped until they were clapped out. So what are his advantages, now that he'll be leader for the foreseeable future?

Of all the party leaders, he has the most attractive wife. I'm sure she won't mind my saying she's what we used to call a proper little sexpot. Drinks with you glass-for-glass and smokes with both hands. We need one of those in politics, but what a surprise to find her in such a smoke-free, unit-counting environment. Ming's ability to pull off a big speech is quite up there with the other party leaders (more interesting than Brown, more convincing than Cameron). If anything, he wins on range of voice, tone, mood. When he speaks quietly about the war, he can produce a prickle behind the eyes.

Message? A message is emerging. It's not tidy but its bits and pieces get along perfectly well. It's "decent fellow" liberalism. Attractive ideas held together by a set of shared assumptions. That may be more powerful than a set of commanding principles. Nothing connects 4p off the basic rate of tax, abolishing ID cards and no nukes – but a very wide range of people will like two out of three.

And he came up with a proposition, a smart slap to the face of the Prime Minister. He repudiated "Blue Labour" on grounds of the growth in inequality, and on civil liberties. "Gordon, you are wrong, wrong, wrong on detention without charge!" he said, to sustained applause. "I don't want to be like any of them!" he went on, and told us that the Lib Dem purpose was to "break the cosy consensus" at the top of the political class. An anti-political class proposition attracts attention and interest.

And, finally, he's got a good speech writer. Of Cameron: "Without beliefs of his own, he is buffeted by the beliefs of others." That's not true, but it sounds true. Of Boris Johnson's candidacy for Mayor of London, "the blondest suicide note in history." Funny.

"Boom and bust in the NHS" is an interesting idea. "More doctors and nurses than ever but no jobs for them to go to." That's not just true but useful as well. We'll be hearing it again, I'm sure. And we also got the closest thing to a criticism of mullah-mania: Britain "guarantees the freedom of all religions but accepts the tyranny of none... the price of freedom is the risk of offence and, for me, that price is always worth paying."

Personally, I would have preferred something a little more offensive, but then I am not at the core of the Lib Dem value system. Unless Elspeth Campbell will meet me there for dinner.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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