The Sketch: Pinky and Perky: if the relationship isn't hurting, it isn't working

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The Independent Online

Pinky first and then we'll get to Perky. Nick Clegg gave us his anniversary speech from the lavatorial grandeur of the Liberal Club. He could have done with a prop to get his message across. A toilet brush, perhaps: "We're going to clean up the mess!" A pig: "Liberals bring home the bacon!" A stripper with a surgically enhanced front end: "No, she's not my definition of plurality either!"

He's an admirable young man and why people pretend to dislike him I don't know. In interviews, he says frank and unguarded things that then get twisted by the interviewers (how could they?). But he does face a real difficulty "getting his message across" because people don't like concentrating when he says things.

For those who were paid to listen – he wants people to know he's changed. He really did need to dramatise that. A cocktail frock is worth 1,000 words.

We are not supposed to think he is a willing companion of the Tories any more. It's business not pleasure (the cocktail frock needs fishnet stockings with it).

He's going for the position Labour has abandoned: "Conscience with a competence." Or was it the other way round? You'd remember it as Tony Blair's position (which won three elections) and the European Union's proposition (which built a coalition of 400 million people). Why Ed Miliband has chucked it is hard to understand; if Pinky can occupy the ground he'll do well. But because people won't really be listening, he's going to have to do things, not say things, if he really wants to end up there. Show, not tell. He'll have to wreck something, somehow. His reputation, perhaps.

His better half stood up to answer Prime Minister's Questions. Perky is Pinky with a dash of governing cynicism, a sense of humour, more gravitas and a splash of Tory austerity. But their similarities are more important than their differences. Looks, build, manner and popular, Whiggish beliefs.

The amateur spirit is alive in both of them, too, and gets them into trouble. Perky still hasn't regained his composure over Calm Down Deargate. It was only a bit of fun, he thought, but now he can hardly face the Opposition front bench waving their satirical arms and mooing "calm down".

Perky also asserted his own independence from his Pinky partners. "There's only one party you can trust on the NHS – and that's the party I lead," he said. That might have stung a little. Still, if it isn't hurting it isn't working (old Tory principle).

PS: Clegg said Labour's great crime was to expect our children to pay the bills we ran up. If Miliband can get my children to do that he's a better man than I am. I've spent a fortune on them and haven't seen a penny back.



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