Sketch: Two-man band strike a duff note

Theirs is a beautiful relationship: a meeting of minds which has elevated the Liberal Democrats to, er, exactly the same place they were five years ago.

By Alex Stevenson

In the orange corner: Nick Clegg, the youthful and energetic leader who specialises in bounding out of bed to be fresh-faced in front of the nation’s press at 07:30. He is about 3,000% fresher than Charles Kennedy was in 2005.

In the other orange corner: Vince Cable, the man whose combination of charming openness and aged wisdom saw him trounce the other two Treasury spokesmen in the first televised debate.

While Clegg’s leadership rival Chris Huhne fights for his seat in Eastleigh, the party leader is being joined by Dr Cable (he doesn’t wince if you call him mister) on the election trail. Media have already dubbed them a two-man band, but there is trouble in paradise: reports of rifts between the two.

“Have you yet shared an ice cream together?” one journalist asked, referring to the most memorable moment of the 2005 campaign. Tony Blair reaching out to Gordon Brown was truly significant. No such moment has occurred between these two so far.

“We’re happy to share ice creams,” statesman Clegg said, looking flustered. Cable was picture-perfect, beaming benevolently at his young colleague. But Clegg looked abashed as he mumbled something about “an extremely good and effective team together”. It was a truly awkward Lib Dem moment.

The question came up again, of course, as it was pointed out that Cable’s campaign literature doesn’t feature a photo of Clegg. Not even a mention. “Shame, shame, disgraceful!” the BBC’s arch-heckler Andrew Neil yelled out. Clegg turned to face him quickly before gushing about how “immensely proud” he was.

It was like the groom praising the father of a bride. “He has emerged as the most trusted spokesperson on the biggest issue,” he said.

“It’s a bit like asking, I don’t know, the captain of a cricket team why they have got the best batsman on their team. I think it’s great.”

Clegg has a track record of hyperbole when it comes to his shadow Cabinet: whole swathes of his conference speech in Bournemouth last year were devoted to a fantasy about what it might be like with Lib Dem personalities beavering away in government. The full size of that team became apparent today.

“I think it’s a sign of the times that it’s the Lib Dems that have the best team – that have Vince,” he corrected, before adding quickly, “as the most authoritative spokesperson on an issue which is dominating this election agenda”.