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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 December 2007, 19:56 GMT
Vince dances off after brief reign

By John Pienaar
BBC Radio 5 Live chief political correspondent

"Vicious Vince," as one tabloid writer called him, is a rather gentle soul.

Vince Cable
Gordon Brown will not miss Vince Cable's dry wit at PMQs

On his last weekend as acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, he was sounding appealingly modest.

"It might have been toe-curlingly embarrassing," he told me. "But in the end it was great fun. Everyone was very nice."

He was actually talking about the, for him, bizarre experience dancing the quick-step with Alesha Dixon - the R and B singer from the girl band Mis-Teeq, before she became a star of the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing.

But he might easily have been talking about his brief political reign.

A combination of dry wit, flawless theatrical timing, and the ability to stay cool in the crucible of the Commons has helped Vince Cable capitalise on Gordon Brown's many miseries, and restore a little of his party's morale in the run-up to the enthronement of a new leader on Tuesday.

Revelation

Comparing the prime minister to Mr Bean was the highlight.

The media loved him: partly because it's such fun to shower gushing praise on a walk-on player; partly because the former oil economist turned out to be a bit of a revelation.

Either way, it's worth noting his brief dismissal of the overture from David Cameron to join a "progressive consensus" against Gordon Brown.

Morale among Labour politicians has fallen through the floor

"It's not exactly annoying," he said. "It's amusing. I don't take it at all seriously. He's just trying to throw a spanner in the works of our leadership election."

It's a safe bet the next leader - the favourite Nick Clegg or Chris Huhne - will take the same view.

The Lib Dems' highest priority now is to establish the distinct and recognisable identity the leadership election was meant to highlight, and never quite did.

Conservative smiles

It's just as safe to assume David Cameron won't lose any sleep that his grand gesture is rebuffed.

Some may give him credit for opening the flap of his own political Big Tent. And this way, he doesn't even have to put up with an awkward set of fellow campers.

David Cameron
David Cameron's Conservatives are delighted by a big poll lead

The smiles on the faces of Conservative shadow cabinet members at their Christmas party the other night were eloquent.

The latest opinion poll, placing the Tories 13 points ahead of Labour, and Gordon Brown's personal rating at minus 26, seems to capture the mood of the moment.

Maybe two years from an election, the Conservatives would be daft - and wrong - to assume the game was already won.

But morale among Labour politicians has fallen through the floor. Public expectations for the economy seem to be moving in the same direction.

Senior Conservatives were right to insist, over the Christmas canapes, they were "confident but not complacent".

Maybe it was simply the pre-Christmas spirit, but their grins stretched wide enough to swallow the cheese-sticks sideways.


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