An odd title for a programme given that there was only one actual Chancellor and two would-be Chancellors, but never mind.
Just one of the many compromises involved in a programme that was wrongly hyped as paving the way to some sort of televisual history, propelling UK elections into the TV age, in the way which US elections have been conducted since before the Nixon era.
With the big TV channels having secured the potential PMs, Channel 4 snuck in and grabbed the Chancellors and got to show them off first. This must have felt like a coup in the planning. In retrospect, I’m not so sure.
Of all the negotiated positions – who goes first, who stands in the middle, how do we all avoid wearing the same tie – the compromise condition that the audience stay shtum to avoid any appearance of bias was the unexpected downer on the evening.
As the first statements were made, and questions were asked and answered, they sat still, silent, unresponding. To politicians used to the caffeine rush of immediate feedback, it must have felt like they were comedians dying on their arses before a wet matinee in Hull. And people at home were bereft without their live audience barometer to see who was up and who was down.
I could sense the producer wondering what the hell he had agreed to as they sat in frozen silence for nearly 15 minutes.
And then a Vince Cable aside prompted the audience to laugh, despite whatever pre-broadcast contracts they had signed in blood, and the spell was broken. They immediately returned to the same sepulchral silence, but at least we knew they were breathing.
Thrice more there were laughs and once applause – most went to Vince but once to Alistair. Poor little George got none. And he essayed some lovely sulks as the big boys ganged up on him over his national insurance tax pledge.
And that was the other main weirdness of the evening. They each referred to the other by their first names throughout – the three great mates, Vince, George and Alistair, solving the UK’s fiscal problems like a gang in Just William. But of course they only really used the first names when trying to shaft their opponent.
In all of this Krishnan Guru-Murphy, who works best close up as an interviewer, stood quite a long way off, not imposing himself, but leaving it flowing. No-one called him Krishnan.
And the winner? If you could measure it on audience reaction Vince was the run-away, having managed to get the audience to break their TV-imposed Trappist convention at least three times.
But as George Osborne cruelly put it at the end, having all played along with “the three of us debating this as potential chancellors” idea, it’s not really a choice between the three of us – it’s them or us, Labour or Tory. Which then meant Vince also won the sympathy vote.
In the end was this the ground-breaking telly that kicked started a new era of electioneering? No. This was old-fashioned political debate conducted between gentlemen, as if 1930s BBC Reithian values still held sway.
It happily ignored 20 years experience of live TV and audience engagement, twitter, social media, phone-in votes, Big Brother, the works.
This is either refreshing, or a sign that TV has a long way to go to work out what it’s going to do with this new election opportunity.
ITV, Sky and BBC will be hastily reviewing their plans and hoping their formats work just that bit better when the real leaders clash.
Posted by arialbold