Con-Dem Nation! Enter right, the bromance of the century

After a week of twists and turns that left both the protagonists and the audience alternately exhilarated and exhausted, our diarist, Matthew Bell, picks out the highlights and surveys a strange new political landscape

Sunday 16 May 2010 00:00 BST

Competitive back-slapping

It's a game beloved of international diplomats – competitive back-slapping. The rules are simple: whoever leaves the press conference with his hand on the other chap's shoulder, showing a clear and patronising authority, wins. Dave appeared to have the upper hand as he and Nick entered No 10 together for the first time, guiding his DPM with a firm right hand. Then Clegg scored a swift "Clinton" – named after US league-topper Bill – slapping Dave back as soon as he had released him. But Clegg's victory was pipped by an extra-time penalty from Dave, who could just be seen patting Nick on his lower back as the great door thudded shut. We've got five years of this, and we're keeping score.

How tall?

Close your eyes and picture our leaders. Now, which one is taller? A rigorous office poll revealed 64 per cent of IoS staff believe it's Cameron, whereas most pictures suggest Clegg is fractionally taller. One colleague says the tallest leader always wins the election. Brown was certainly the shortest, at 5ft 11in. According to the BBC, Cameron is 6ft dead, while the consensus on – take a look, it's hours of fun – puts him at 6ft 1/2in, or 185cm, a figure that also appears on IMDB (we're not sure why he's on there). There are no official figures available on Clegg, but he recently told The Economist he is roughly 6ft. Well, if even he doesn't know then we'll leave our speculation there.

Hooray Paddy

Paddy Ashdown greeted news of the coalition with just one word: "Hooray". Now, we're all for concision, especially from seasoned windbags, but when the BBC asked him to elaborate he became a little tiresome: "Listen – you've heard my comment, which is one word. It's the first time you've had a one-word statement and it is, 'Hooray'. And I'll repeat it. 'Hooray.'" Our verdict of his verdict contains just one word, too, but it's not hooray.

Young leaders

Much chat about Lord Liverpool after every media outlet reeled out the fact that Cameron is the youngest prime minister to take office since old Livers in 1812 (he was 42, Dave is 43). But the similarities go much further than that. My well-thumbed edition of Wikipedia tells me that, as well as having been to Oxford and rising through the Tory ranks very quickly, that "during his time as prime minister, from 1812 to 1827, Liverpool became known for repressive measures introduced to maintain order", which included the notorious corn laws. The economy was also in dire straits, with the nation saddled by massive debt caused by recent wars, and Liverpool responded by putting up taxes and overseeing a return to the gold standard. Spooky.

Boy George

And what of George Osborne? The new Chancellor is a mere 38, making him the youngest person to assume that office since Randolph Churchill in 1886. We know rather more about him, being the father of Winston, who wrote extensively about him in his book A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. He is not to be confused with the younger Randolph Churchill, Winston's son, who was so bumptious that when Evelyn Waugh got trapped with him in a farmhouse in Yugoslavia during the war, he challenged him to read the Bible to keep him quiet. The scheme failed as Randolph guffawed his way through the whole thing. His grandfather, by contrast, was rather dour, as, we suspect, is our new Boy George.

IDS – our hero

Jubilation in right-wing circles came in unexpected ways, not least from The Spectator, which got excited about Iain Duncan Smith being appointed Work and Pensions Secretary. Normal people will remember IDS as the quiet man who said he was turning up the volume. How we quaked! After being toppled as leader of the Conservatives he has been busy setting up the Centre for Social Justice, which The Spectator applauds. "No politician is more committed to welfare reform, or has thought more deeply about it," gushes this week's editorial. "There is no politician alive better suited to this job, and no one more likely to work faster." Nobody can work faster? As anyone who has had a conversation with him will attest, he's not one for using one word when a couple of dozen will do.

Boris's whizzo similes

Boris Johnson kept an impressively low profile in the run-up to polling day but has been making up for it ever since, coming up with ever more fanciful metaphors for the coalition. Speaking to Jeremy Paxman as talks continued, he likened it to a sausage, saying: "Whatever type of Wall's sausage is contrived by this great experiment, the dominant ingredient has got to be Conservative – the meat in the sausage has got to be Conservative." Then, on Wednesday, he likened the Government to a cross-bred dog, somewhere between "a bulldog and a Chihuahua". Perhaps Boris would like to extend the metaphor to the leaders: Dave a Labrador, Nick his poodle?

Mugabe to elder statesman

Not since Diana's car crash have the pundits committed such an about-turn on a public figure as they did with Nick Clegg last week. Leaving aside his rocket-like trajectory during the TV debates, since polling day he has gone, as someone quipped on Question Time, from king-maker to tea-maker. As the deal-making dragged on, Sir Malcolm Rifkind blasted this skulduggery as "the politics of Robert Mugabe", while David Blunkett labelled Clegg "a harlot". Only hours later he was being hailed as a statesman. If only Linda Lee-Potter were alive – her before and after columns would have been a treat.

Young PMs

How old do you feel? If you're aged anywhere between 43 and 57 you probably feel an awful lot older than you did this time last week. That's because it will have dawned on you as Cameron was anointed our leader that he is the first PM to be younger than you. This depressing fact applies to about 11.6 million people, or 19 per cent or the population. Just think, that could have been you.

Ramsay MacDonald

We've been told enough times now that we can all chant in unison: this is the first peacetime coalition government to be formed since 1931. Ramsay MacDonald was the Nick Clegg of the day, upsetting the Labour Party by agreeing to form a national government in which the majority of MPs were Conservatives. This treachery nearly finished off Labour, which won only 52 seats in that year's election. The party understandably took against MacDonald, blaming him for its near collapse, though he maintained his defection had only ever been a temporary measure, and he had hoped to return. Happily for Clegg, his party is entirely behind him, and its future is perfectly safe. Isn't it?

Posh factor

75: that's the percentage of the new cabinet who went to private school. It's a shocking figure, especially when compared with Tony Blair's humble 17 per cent, and given that only 10 per cent of the population is privately educated. But there is a clever little defence the Tories can wield, should they wish: this is, in fact, the Conservative Cabinet with the most state-educated ministers. An impressive claim, though when you think about it for more than a second, it's not that surprising. Major, Thatcher, Heath, Churchill – of course, their Cabinets were heaving with Etonians. And before that the distinction wasn't whether you had been to a private or state school; it was whether you were a boarder or day boy.

What next for former MPs and ministers?

It's a busy time for headhunters: reports reach me they have been inundated with cheery phone calls from ex-MPs they once met at a party, wondering, um, whether, er, there are any company boards that need a highly paid new member, please?

As Gordon Brown dusts down his CV, we asked a clairvoyant, an astrologist and a personal trainer what the future holds for him, ex-ministers and the 263 ex-MPs drowning out the jobs market. Anita Olsen, of Anita's Psychic Readings, tells me: "In the New Year, I see Gordon flying a small plane." We hesitate to point out his sight problems before she goes on, "or this image symbolises his happiness with freedom. He should seek guidance from his late mother as I feel she was an inspiration to him." Indeed. Nick Mitchell, a personal trainer at Up Fitness, has more practical advice, suggesting he goes on a yoga retreat. It's less plausible than the flying.

What of Peter Mandelson, who has more time on his hands? Over to Anita: "I feel there is deep thinking and focus on personal relationships around November/ December. Drama or theatre are shown to me as being of importance to Peter and may have a possible work connection."

Philip Garcia, a celebrity astrologist, says the former business secretary, as a Libra, should focus on his skills, bringing harmony where there has been discord. "He wouldn't go far wrong in marriage guidance, as well as becoming a party planner – perhaps the divorce party era is about to start with Peter as ringmaster?"

Alan Johnson is, according to Mitchell, "looking a bit old and knackered", and should remedy this with some "steady weight training". Anita sees a career as a jockey beckoning: "I see Alan horse riding. The horse symbolises strength and power coming his way. Alan is shown to me like the brick house in 'The Three Little Pigs', he will not be blown down."

But the best news comes for Tessa Jowell, the former Olympics minister whose husband, David Mills, was at the centre of bribery allegations. Anita says she can see Tessa enjoying healthy financial affairs a year from now, though she warns: "There seem to be more challenging situations ahead – she could benefit from asking a spirit for guidance." Or just the Carabinieri.

The lexicon of love

"A very civil partnership" was how the Evening Standard broke the happy news and, suddenly, it was as if we had a royal wedding on our hands. After Nick and Dave's touching performance on the Downing Street lawns on Wednesday – a joint press conference with matching his-and-his lecterns – sub-editors swung into Charles and Diana mode circa 1981, splashing headlines of "The happy couple" and "A special relationship" over the papers.

But the pictures didn't need explaining: side by side, all bashful smiles, yearning gazes, walking and talking, joking and poking, on the lawn, up the stairs, crossing the threshold, their matching blue suits sewn together at the sleeve. Was that confetti in the background? Oh no, just wisteria, but we got the message: this was the political bromance of the century.

The Daily Telegraph's sketchwriter Andrew Gimson urged caution: "When two people who have known each other for five days announce they are going to spend the next five years together, the world is bound to ask whether the happy couple have taken leave of their senses." The Independent imagined the wedding vows: "I, Nick, take you, Dave, to be my leader, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.... Till debt us do part." Soon the columnists were scrambling to come up with the most apposite historical parallel: Morecambe and Wise? Ant and Dec? Jedward? Cleggward? They certainly looked identical. Some saw traces of Colin Firth and Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones's Diary. But it took Richard Littlejohn of the Mail to take the romantic metaphor a couple of steps too far, and up the stairs and into the bedroom, by likening it to Brokeback Mountain. What a delightful thought, and one he was, naturally, disgusted by. "The honeymoon stops here," he thundered. Thank goodness – now they can unpack all those fondue sets.

Boulton and Burley

If we told you Adam Boulton was tired and emotional when he monstered Alastair Campbell live on TV you would assume he'd had a pint or three. In fact, Boulton gave up alcohol for the election and really was very tired. And it's no wonder he was emotional: Campbell and Boulton have history, stemming from Campbell's frosty relationship with Anji Hunter, a fellow Blair aide and now Boulton's wife.

It wasn't what Campbell wrote that Anji minded, but what he didn't: Hunter was incensed that Campbell portrayed her as having only a walk-on part at No 10. "There were so many entries in his diaries which started, 'Meeting with TB and I' that I felt like saying, 'Hang on a minute, I happened to have been there, too'," she once told the Telegraph.

Campbell is certainly the master of the wind-up, and Monday's performance was an object lesson in how to needle a supposedly impartial news anchor on a Murdoch-owned news channel. "You're obviously upset that David Cameron is not Prime Minister," was the touchpaper. But it wasn't just Campbell: only four hours later Boulton was finger-jabbing and screaming again, this time at Ben Bradshaw. Although we like Boulton, everyone agreed there was no excuse for such behaviour. Had Nick Robinson of the BBC lost his cool, there would be calls for his resignation. There have been nearly 1,500 complaints to Ofcom, though it's thought a Labour twitter campaign is behind them.

The good news for Sky is that its reputation doesn't rest entirely on Boulton – there's always Kay Burley. Burley has become a YouTube sensation after barracking a protester, telling him he should go home and watch Sky. Not only was this weird behaviour for an impartial news presenter, but she should have known better than to take on a bunch of protesters, who then chanted live on air "Sack Kay Burley! Watch the BBC!". Anger management classes may be in order for both; meanwhile, the best sport is on Sky.

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