'Paddy Ashdown with whiskers'
I confess that I am a tad sceptical about the hyperbolic and choreographed displays of anger within the coalition about the alternative vote (AV). Usually in my job the language and the sentiment you hear in private from politicians is much more colourful than that uttered in public. Indeed, this difference is one of the reasons I have a job at all. At the moment, though, I am struck by the fact that at the top of the government it is the other way round.
Having praised the Grand Old Man as "obviously a brilliant man who did some extraordinary things for his country", the prime minister went on something of a contemporary riff telling me:
"The only problem with Gladstone" was that "there is something a bit sanctimonious, you know - I was going to say Paddy Ashdown with whiskers", before adding hurriedly "that's a bit unfair on Paddy Ashdown".
The interview was recorded not long after Paddy's all guns blazing amphibious assault on David Cameron for allowing the No campaign to target Nick Clegg personally. Ashdown, you may recall, was once the boss of David Cameron's Chief of Staff Ed Llewelyn - the two worked together in Bosnia - and still calls from time to time to pass on his views. Now that is one private conversation which, I suspect, did live up to the public rhetoric.