Vince, endless elephants and the Lib Dem manifesto

Election 2010: Guffwatch!

There were so many elephants in Vince Cable's speech at the Lib Dem manifesto launch, you felt you might be crushed at any moment.

There was an "elephant in the room", an elephant that wasn't being confronted and, of course, the "elephant man" himself: Vince. I love it when a speech hits on a metaphor and doesn't just run with it, but leaps, bounds, sprints and pirouettes a marathon, clutching the metaphor to its chest like a gold medal.

(Clegg tried to capitalise on Vince's elephants: "Thank you, The Elephant Man." Oh, Nick. The joke had already been crushed into submission. But good on you for attempting to resurrect it for the benefit of a silently unamused audience who had already been all elephanted out.)

But the Lib Dems were trying to be much more serious and specific than the "it's all fine, really" Tories and Labour: their manifesto has real numbers on page 100, to which Clegg directed his audience like an eager schoolteacher, holding aloft his manifesto like a textbook.

The point is that Clegg has a plan, not just a promise. (Although his plan sometimes sounds remarkably familiar. His one-word summary? "Fairness." His aim? To put "power back into people's hands". Thank you, Labour, thank you, Tories.)

"These are promises you can trust," he said, forgetting that he was all about plans, not promises. When is a plan not a promise, or a promise a plan? Who can tell . . .

Anyway, Clegg was all about optimism. Hope. The future. Candour, yes. Oh, and magic:

We can turn anger into hope, frustration into ambition, recession into opportunity for everyone.

It's practically alchemy! A new strand of policy for the Lib Dems, but who says some 17th-century shape-shifting can't be a major factor in this election? It was the one thing missing, in my opinion.

And then he was off with a trumpety-trump trump, trump, trump. And an "ain't". As in: "I hear the Conservatives say they want to ring-fence the NHS. They ain't!" Yeesh.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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