Vince Cable, man of the people

'Vince or Nick?' one Liberal Democrat delegate was asked by a sodden hack as she walked through the rain to the Brighton conference centre.

Whether it was her real feeling or down to loyalty in front of the camera she said 'Nick'. But she was drowned out by a gaggle of others walking behind her who shouted 'Vince' at that exact moment.

It was the question floating across a lot of minds at the Lib Dem conference, perhaps even Vince Cable's, as the time approached when the business secretary was due to give his speech yesterday.

Vince has been resurgent recently. He took a battering last year after being caught bragging to young female journalists pretending to be constituents about how powerful he was. He had a political 'nuclear weapon' he told them manfully, and he wasn't afraid to use it.

But since that humiliation he has bounced back. Recently he said the 'cult of youth' in politics had come to an end, and that the electorate wanted more experienced politicians; a dig at David Cameron, or even at Nick Clegg perhaps.

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Indeed, Vince is now undeniably back in his most favoured position; not being his party's leader, but being the man the party grass-roots wants as leader. How he played up to them on the conference stage.

He hit out at 'head bangers' (read rightish Conservatives) who want to change employment law so it's easier to lay people off. They like sacking people so much they see it as an aphrodisiac, he said a little dirtily.

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There was a not very funny joke about reports that he speaks on the phone with Ed Miliband, he even took his mobile out at one point and said 'not now Ed'.

But everyone laughed anyway, this was their man and he knew just how to press their buttons. So while he noted the need for fiscal discipline in economic policy, he added the line 'this is no time for the state to be stepping back'.

He went on that the rich had 'got off lightly' and promised to hunt them down in their sunny tax havens. Rapturous applause.

Whether it was his real feeling or down to loyalty in front of the camera, he said he supported Nick as leader. But I suspect that at the time when the question is seriously put, there will be a conveniently positioned group of Vince supporters to shout his name.

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