The Sketch: Out with the old and in with the... old

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The Independent Online

A new politics: that's what Nick is promising us. A new way of doing politics. Yes, a new and ambitious politics. There will be opportunity for all. Nobody will be held back. There'll be social justice. It'll be out in the country away from the Westminster hothouse. It'll be a listening politics, an ambitious politics listening to ordinary men and women. The reporter next to me turned off her tape recorder. And why not? If it's all going to be so new, why is he giving us the same rubbishy old crap?

He is even going to devote one day a week listening to a network of families "to tell me what my priorities should be". You better hope my family doesn't get into that network or you'll get it hot and strong. But it's marvellous, isn't it, how you can lead a national party without knowing what your priorities should be. The only real winner was Vince. He has retired as leader at the height of his game, his reputation enhanced, the beginnings of a modern myth trailing behind him. He introduced the result. He stood there, gazing out morosely over the applauding room. Then he gave us a charmingly deadpan speech.

He welcomed the three leaders of the Liberal Democrats Ming, Kennedy, Ashdown. "And David Steel!" someone shouted. That would have been embarrassing but Vince retorted: "He was before the merger." Then some ballroom dancing reminiscences which had everyone laughing. "In terms of the leadership contest..." he eventually said, to a murmuring underswell of, "Oh no, go on, give us another one, do." But then there were those numbers, and a creditable speech from Huhne followed by the aforesaid leaderly drivel.

Incidentally, Huhne will never forgive himself, the poor fellow. Had he spent an extra grand, had he shaken 200 more hands, had he... But there he is, twice the runner-up. And Vince would get it next time even if he were 110 years old.

Young Clegg may have a mind like a food fight but his future is better than that of any Liberal Democrat leader. First If there's no overall majority after the next election, he will be the government's rudder. Why would they go into coalition? They'll have power without responsibility. Great heavens, they will be as sketchwriters!

Second Clegg has a front bench of underrated parliamentarians. Underrated by me, at least. We must remember that Vince was right about Northern Rock from the first. David Laws grows in stature month by month. There's David Heath isn't there? There's Huhne himself. And Ming, of course. Top table! They'll have it all on a plate and without changing the voting system one jot.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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