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Simon Carr

The Sketch: Vince banks on a bit of mulish miserableness to really wow them

"People say I'm miserable," Vince said, to laughter. "But this is my happy face." I had forgotten how useful it is, that thing he has on the front of his head. Such an unpromising arrangement of features: a mouth like a mule's and the guarded, pain-filled eyes. It could play one of the tramps in Waiting for Godot.

It's such an asset when all around him are happy, shiny young people saying "But I'm an optimist!" – as if they expect us to think the better of them (the sick freaks).

We really shouldn't let optimists anywhere near the £700bn of public spending; it's optimism that's got us into this mess.

Vince was so frank with us he admitted he wasn't enjoying his job. It's the excuse bosses use when they sack you: "You don't look as though you're enjoying yourself much any more – wouldn't you be happier dead?"

"It isn't much fun," he said of the Coalition Government, "but it's necessary." Necessary for the national interest, necessary indefinitely, he said. Coalitions will be always be with us (as long as the votes happen to fall that way).

He had a number of well-crafted lines. Labour "lacked foresight and now they lack hindsight". And "They demand a plan B, but they haven't got a plan A."

Some of us were waiting for a real swipe at Labour stewardship of the economy – no one has really pulled that off yet. The point of entry is Gordon Brown's pathological borrowing, which began in 2001 and went on through the boom years, to keep the economy going for his high-spending premiership. That's the moral case against Labour – borrowing in a boom to buy elections.

But there were other fish on Vince's griddle. The bankers. Or those bankers whom he characterised as "spivs and gamblers who did more damage to the British economy than anything Bob Crow could have done in his wildest Trotskyite fantasies".

It was possible to argue with him about capitalism. It "takes no prisoners", he said. That's true – but only when it's allowed to work properly. Under capitalism, all those spivs and gamblers would have lost their homes and their pensions; their children would have been jerked out of school and they'd all be living in one room in sheltered accommodation. It was politicians who paid off their debts as long as they really promised not to do it again.

The shame was Vince couldn't apply his morbid, mordant vocabulary to education. His talk of a graduate tax turned out not to have been a graduate tax at all, just higher taxes. And there was no debate-changing utterance on education standards.