When Nick Clegg was merely an inexperienced neophyte who had rather surprisingly been elected to the leadership of a third party few people really cared about, he was very often in the shadow of a far greater, altogether more majestic figure. Vince Cable had shown, during his temporary leadership of the Lib Dems, that age didn't have to be a bar to effective leadership. He had combined well aimed comedy - his jibe about Gordon Brown transforming from Stalin to Mr. Bean was one of the most wounding to be aimed at the former PM - with a reputation as the country's greatest political seer. Never mind Cardinal Newman, it was Vince that everyone thought should be sainted.
Even as the election campaign began, the Lib Dems seemed to think that St. Vince, as he was commonly becoming known, should always be seen at Mr. Clegg's side in order to give the younger man more gravitas. Well the rest is, as everyone rather unoriginally says, history. Nick Clegg delivered a passable performance in his first television debate, in contrast to flawed performances from both of the other leaders, and became a political figure in his own right. Not only was there no more need for Vince, but the older man was quietly consigned to the sidelines while Cleggmania took effect. Vince only re-emerged as a rather reluctant member of Nick Clegg's readily agreed coalition with Mr. Cameron. His famous impression of a dying duck in a thunderstorm became a regular feature on political shows. But Vince Cable didn't become one of the Lib Dems' biggest figures by accident - although in that party, to be fair, such a thing is not improbable. No, Dr. Vince Cable is as capable of a political hatchet job as the next man, and that is what he has managed to deliver today.
Cable's hard nosed political acumen was clearly seen in the releasing of incendiary excerpts from his 'anti-business' speech as Business Secretary; then his careful placing of such rhetoric in a slightly less inflamed final speech whilst still enthusing the dying Lib Dem conference crowd, was a masterpiece of political spin (see Paul Waugh's take on it here). And the hatchet job he has delivered is certainly not aimed at British business, but at the man whose views he has been busy contradicting all week - Nick Clegg. Vince Cable is an uncommonly good politician, and when Nick Clegg finally moves on to become the next leader of the Tory Party, it will be Vince, and not the earnest Simon Hughes, whol will succeed him as the popular new leader of the opposition Lib Dems. Masterly.