Friday, 16 April 2010

The Leadership Debates Round 1 – A Good Night for Clegg

I got up early this morning to write this before reading or watching any reviews of last night’s debate, to make sure my thoughts wouldn’t be coloured by the political pundits. As I said in yesterday’s blog, my own view is that this sort of thing merely entrenches currently held opinions, so this blog comes with some health warnings.

Anyway, in order of political power, I thought this is how it went.

The Prime Minister had a reasonable night and, in all honesty, that was about as good as he could hope for. Many will have tuned in as Polly Toynbee said in yesterday’s Guardian to watch the Brown ‘car crash’ but he avoided that with ease. His opening statement was classic Brown. No empathy, no showmanship just “this is what I stand for, this is what I’m going to do, take it or leave it.” I don’t think that will hurt him with undecided voters – there is so much cynicism about politicians out there that attempts to cosy up will be seen as a ploy. Interestingly, he took the attack directly to Cameron from the off. This is a clear Labour tactic, to almost run as an opposition party by making the real opposition answer difficult questions. It worked very well in Scotland against the SNP.

In my view, Cameron had a bad night. This is not the David Cameron we see and hear in the House of Commons, who teases and baits Brown to distraction. I don’t know whether his handlers told him to be Prime Ministerial and statesmanlike but he seemed at times reluctant to engage. In terms of policy, I’m still not sure where the Conservatives stand on key issues. Is money raised from spending cuts going to cut the deficit or is he going to spend it on the NHS and Defence? Equally, I’m sure it’s annoying that some Chief Executives in the NHS have got a seven per cent pay rise but capping this sort of thing is going to raise peanuts in the grand scheme of things. I also thought the standing arrangements did him no favours. At times, particularly early on, he was assailed from both sides as both Clegg and Brown piled in on him, which made him look distinctly uncomfortable on one or two occasions (if this was deliberate, kudos to whoever it was in the Labour Party who came up with it).

Clegg, I thought, had an excellent evening. His, almost certainly rehearsed, astonishment at the two major parties’ embrace of reform of the House of Lords (“I can’t believe I’m hearing this”) was one of the few highlights and will give a valuable insight to many voters on the maneuverings of the two main parties to block political reform whilst all the time calling for change. He was also very specific about where cuts would come, in particular child benefits and the proposed replacement for Trident. His one wobble moment, came when Brown and Cameron, played the patriotism card over Trident (Brown: “I’ll never leave this country undefended”). This issue deserves debating without any of the participants wrapping themselves in the flag (I’ll come back to this when I post again next week before the debate on foreign policy).

In short, no knockout blows and many will have switched off well before 10pm, but I suspect the Conservatives will be more worried today.

Report card:

Brown, reasonable start
Cameron, must do better
Clegg, keep it going


  1. The whole thing was a bit too much like a game show for me.

    Are we voting for who is the best stage performer or the best person to run our country.

    Though all 3 had a little too much PR training – when their ‘performances’ are so polished they start to look like androids.

    For instance, NC name checking the questioners at the end for ’show’ – good , but so text book PR to be annoying !

    Give me the Boris Johnson approach to political PR every time!

  2. Chris

    I agree, but I do think it offered a glimpse of some inner tensions which they are all wrestling with (most notably Cameron seems ill-at-ease with the economic arguments). I also hope it has engaged the electorate - judging by the chat in the office this morning it has anyway!