Never has one been so glad to hear the name of plain Vince Cable


Nick Clegg held a teddy bears’ picnic in Whitehall for ‘European Liberal Democrats in Government’. Behold an array of continental coalitionisers, not all of them household names in Neasden.

The line-up was a nightmare for proofreaders preparing the name plates. It included: Jan Björklund, Deputy PM of Sweden; Siim Kallas, European Commisioner for Transport; Artur Mas i Gavarró from Catalonia’s Convergència Democràtica; Cypriot tourist minister Praxoula Antoniadou Kyriacou (try saying that after a squirt of ouzo); and a phalanx of special advisers from Aare Järvan to Henrik Kjerrumgaard.

Never has one been so glad to see the name of plain Vince Cable. All the foreign spellings were plainly too much for the poor sap preparing the official paperwork. The venue, Admiralty House, was printed as ‘Admiratly House’. I sypmathise.

Teddy bear's picnic: Nick Clegg makes his opening remarks at a meeting of European Liberal leaders yesterday

Teddy bear's picnic: Nick Clegg makes his opening remarks at a meeting of European Liberal leaders yesterday

The event was, bluntly, an attempt by Cleggy to put a spanner in David Cameron’s European veto and to schmooze European middlers.

Given how popular Cam’s veto has been, is the Cleggster wise to pursue this gambit? From Mr Clegg and his little friends yesterday there was talk to the effect of ‘veto? what veto?’ and a Call My Bluff insistence that everything in the European garden is splendid.

We also heard how they want to ‘fold’ into EU law the very thing Cameron vetoed and how they intend to use European Union institutions for their unapproved scheme, despite Mr Cameron’s clearly stated demand to the contrary. ‘We’re very constructive about this,’ claimed Mr Clegg.

Plain: Vince Cable's name was a welcome break from all the foreign spellings

Plain: Vince Cable's name was a welcome break from all the foreign spellings

Was he speaking for the government of the Lib Dems at this point? ‘Folding’ is a term normally associated with the making of soufflés to ensure that the hot air does not escape. I have not previously heard it used as a legal proposition but yesterday Mr Clegg used it repeatedly. It was his Word Of The Day.

The event began at noon with various unexciting-looking chaps stepping out of B-standard limousines. The Belgians’ car may well have been a minicab. Things moved on to ‘welcome drinks’. Good for them. No sooner had the midday gun gone bang than they were at it like gargling dental patients.

Then there was a group photo – say ‘Cheese!’ in ten or so languages – followed by lunch in the Music Room, the charge for which was having to listen to a speech by Sir Graham Watson MEP. Who he? Fair question. I recall Comrade Watson as a press officer in the City in the late 1980s when I used to bash out a City gossip column for Another Newspaper. These days Sir Graham (Sir!) is President of the European Liberal Democrats and things don’t come much swankier than that for the yellow bird crowd.

Delegates were issued with a map showing the floorplan of Admiratly House. It was like something from the boardgame Cluedo.

The schedule advised that in the Dining Room from 1.30pm to 3pm, Olli Rehn, the European Commission’s economic affairs wallah (a championship-standard bore), would be chairing a discussion on Eurozone and Treaty Change.

Continental: From left to right, Siim Kallas, European Commission Vice President, Andrus Ansip, Prime Minister of Estonia, Nick Clegg, Ollie Rehn, European Commission Vice President and Jan Bjorklund, Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden

Continental: From left to right, Siim Kallas, European Commission Vice President, Andrus Ansip, Prime Minister of Estonia, Nick Clegg, Ollie Rehn, European Commission Vice President and Jan Bjorklund, Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden

In the same room later, Dutch PM Mark Rutte lectured everyone on economic growth, whatever that might be. The bash ended at 10pm with more drinks (attaboys!) and dinner in the Music Room. The press conference in the middle of the day was notable chiefly for Mr Clegg’s breezy insistence that everything was going swimmingly – he wouldn’t look me in the eye for some reason – and for a tight-lipped performance by one Andrus Ansip, Prime Minister of Estonia. 

For the first 40 minutes he coughed up just three words: ‘Nothing to add.’ Otherwise he just moved his eyes slowly from side to side. I half wondered if he might be a bodyguard who had been given a lectern by mistake. But then someone asked him a question and, whoosh, he was off like a horseracing commentator, spouting almost completely unintelligible stuff littered with statistics.

I caught just the last few words which were: ‘It vas just vaste of time!’ Couldn’t have put it better myself, Mr Lemsip.

 

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