Leaders’ Debate: Clegg nicks it

Well there it was.  TV history in the making. It was exciting just for the fact it happened.  Even if nothing really did happen.  There was no “you’re no Jack Kennedy” moment. No zinger from one candidate which turned the election. No sweaty Nixon pallor.  That may still be to come.

Each of the three party leaders was incredibly controlled:  over 90 minutes none of them appeared to put a physical step wrong.  No arrogant rolling of the eyes. No weird facial gestures. No checked watches.  Indeed it makes you wonder how the US Presidential candidates have got it so wrong in the past.

Gordon Brown didn’t chew his nails.  David Cameron didn’t sing the Eton Boating song. Nick Clegg didn’t freeze with fright at being in the playground with the big boys.

All of them had clearly practised the same approach – it was show not tell.  Play out the anecdote of the latest school you’ve visited.  The latest nurse you’ve spoken to.  The latest crime victim you’ve salivated over.

But there was at least a clear winner:  as with “Ask the Chancellors” this was the Lib Dems. So far, so predictable.  But predictable only to those who thought about it for 5 minutes in advance.

To around 90% of the audience tuning in, the fact that Nick Clegg was even the same size as the other two was probably the biggest surprise.  Schooled on the David Steel perceptions of politics, we expected the Lib Dem leader to be about 2′ 6″.

All that said, he played his hand pretty coolly – he neatly derided the two.  He avoided being cosied up to by Gordon.  He struck an independent line on Trident.  He could have shrivelled up, over-claimed or mis-spoken.  He stood up straight and matched blow for blow.

Cameron did his dog whistle politics pretty effectively – more discipline in schools, too many immigrants, more police on the beat.  As a Labour voter (hey this is honesty day!) it frankly passed me by.  But the instant opinion polls showed that resonated with the undecided voters in Bolton.  He clearly had his right-wing messages worked out.

But did we see a new Prime Minister in action? Did Cameron dominate in the way that you’d expect after 13 years of an allegedly discredited Labour government. No.  And indeed as the putative front runner, I think Cameron is the biggest loser from this.

Did Gordon Brown come across as the worst inhuman PM in living memory?  No.  He smiled.  He did anecdote (just about).  His arguable flaws were trying to co-opt Nick into his gang, and being too pushy in testing Cameron – but as the second placed guy that is what you do.

Back inside their analysis dens, each will be saying to their leaders – you did well.  Amongst the Broons there’ll be relief. In their hearts, the Cameronistas should really be reflecting on why their guy did not do better. In Cleggland they’ll be dancing in the streets of Sheffield (Hallam).

What is fascinating now is that we have two more debates to go – Sky and then BBC 1.  As we saw with Reagan in 1984, there’s always a chance for a remarkable turn around.

And there’s no going back now. Every would-be PM from now on will face this same leaders’ debate in future General Elections.  UK elections have changed for ever.


Filed under political coverage

14 responses to “Leaders’ Debate: Clegg nicks it

  1. inkface

    I rather warmed to Clegg in this, but it was so very controlled, and they were dressed so similarly, it felt like a boy band twenty years on doing a ‘debate’ number. The only thing they moved were their hands.

  2. DrTrickCyclist

    No Lloyd Bentsen moment but plenty of Ross Perot from Clegg Tracey of Thunderbird 3. Corn Pone platitudes and a “plague on both your houses”. Lamer than the bogus sage Vince Cable.

    • arialbold

      But Ross Perot never won the debates. The interesting thing for Labour now is they are v happy for Clegg to be seen as the new boy with charisma – that was never their card to play. By stealing Cameron’s role, Clegg shores up the Lib vote in key south and southwest marginals. If I were BBC I’d be getting my men down to North Somerset pronto to see how the undecideds are running now.

  3. Qwerty

    I didn’t bother to watch this as I knew I could get everything I needed to know the next day from your splendid summary, and save myself those 90 minutes. Marvellous.

    • arialbold

      I feel much the same about the Archers omnibus. You keep listening to the farmers. I’ll keep watching the politicos.

  4. pauseliveaction

    Excellent summary. Clegg was extremely statesmanlike (who’d have thunk it?), and I thought it was very clever of him to be noting down all the names of the questioners and directions as to where they were sitting so he could reel them off later and gesture in their general direction. Meanwhile Cameron was trying to get maximum references to himself in, and Brown was spewing out figures and data like a large adding machine made of corned beef.

  5. DrTrickCyclist

    Yup, I think the soap-powder superhero is right about Labour bigging up Clegg and the Lib Dems as a shield against the Tories in the South. Its been quite an interesting aspect of their strategy and they are clearly playing for a draw (or a hung parliament as it is formally known).

    Also interesting that the Libs have been borrowing the traditional Labour ground of scape-goating bankers and flaying fat-cats. Still, they are not the ones who actually have to get us out of the mess so talk is cheap and Uncle Vince would be a lot less popular were he actually holding the purse strings.

    Funny that the using of questioner’s first names played well. There’s a real art to getting away with that and it can easily sound smarmy and bogus. Actually I think it did but the Great British Public clearly though otherwise.

    I actually though that Cam came out well by dint of not screwing up. I rather think your fiver will soon be in my pocket AB!

  6. wallomrslug

    Nobody else noticed the strange patch on Cameron’s trousers and the way he kept scratching himself down there then…o.O

    • pauseliveaction

      No… You’re sure you were watching the leaders’ debate, and not a Jeremy Kyle re-run?

      • arialbold

        I assume MrSlug (if that is his real name) was speaking metaphorically.

        I suspect it was the Lib Dem spinners who had the dampest patches down there afterwards.

  7. inkface

    Oh please. Just stop that right now.

  8. wallomrslug

    Actually, I wasn’t speaking metaphorically, I’m not quite that witty heh.

    Unless I had a dark patch on my TV screen, Mr Cameron did have a certain patch to my eyes…

  9. pauseliveaction

    Sky News got body language expert Peter Collett (as seen on Big Brother) to analyse the debate. It’s quite interesting http://bit.ly/9zBndH (he doesn’t mention any stains though…).