The Sketch: How many would vote for an amalgam of all three?

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The Independent Online

The young man I found myself sitting near on the Tube looked nervous, agitated, almost frightened. Was he lost? Was he a fare-dodger? Was he something more sinister? I noticed the glossy yellow leaflets he was fiddling with. I relaxed. He was a Lib Dem. He, like me, had just emerged from the leadership hustings. He, like me, was confused.

There was a lot to be perplexed about. When you hear people yelling "You're a racist" for seven minutes at Simon Hughes you know you've entered an unlikely sort of world. Yet a reassuring one. For the two hecklers who denounced Mr Hughes were not dealt with as was Walter Wolfgang, roughed up and charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for shouting "rubbish" at Jack Straw at the Labour conference. The Lib Dem "bouncers" stood next to the hecklers and, well, whispered at them, presumably anxious to avoid any ironic repetition of Mr Wolfgang's treatment. Then the assembled liberals booed at them (politely enough) and eventually, with not a finger laid on anyone, the hecklers left. What a nice, civilised party the Liberal Democrats are, after all. If only they'd been so gentle when they ejected Charles Kennedy.

Mr Hughes too, in his nice way, did his best to add to the confusion. Now I know Charles Clarke's bad, but did Mr Hughes really say that we seemed to be "hurtling towards dictatorship"? He did. Did he really tell us that he hadn't lied about his private life? He did. Did he inform us earnestly that the young were "our future"? 'Fraid so.

It was still a passionate performance, hurtling towards sanity at times. How many Liberal Democrats, I wondered, would like to vote for an amalgam of the three men standing before them? They need that evangelism of Hughes, "fired up and ready to lead" as he says. It would be lovely, too, to be cloaked in Sir Ming's exquisitely tailored authority. (An authoritative pink tie, statesmanlike cutaway collar and credible navy blue suit were modelled yesterday.) And who wouldn't just kill for the intellect of Chris Huhne, who even thinks, much to the obvious irritation of Sir Ming, that he knows as much as Sir Ming does about stuff like Iraq and Nato! Sir Ming had to tell Mr Huhne at one point that he was "rupturing Nato", although it looked rather more as though he was rupturing Sir Ming's vanity. Something tells me these two "colleagues" hate each other's guts.

Mr Huhne understands economics and can toss words such as "Croslandite" and "marketisation" casually around. However, if he wants to distract the British people from Hotel Babylon, he'll have to stop doing that.

I wouldn't know who to pick. Would brains or experience or passion be best at dissolving the nightmare of empty whisky bottles, gay chat lines and bizarre sex acts "too revolting to describe"? It's a perplexing choice.

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