Leaders’ Debate 2: the difficult second album

Would Cleggmania continue to ride rampant over what he would persistently call the “old parties”, or would his bubble burst as the electorate woke up from a seven-day bender wondering what the hell they ever saw in him?  In practice, neither.  This was closer to being the difficult second album which can’t have the wow factor of the first but certainly isn’t a flop.

Overall this was therefore more of a score-draw – with Clegg unable to sustain the hysteria of Leaders 1, Cameron getting more to grips with the format, and Gordon Brown hanging on in there. And that in itself is a mark of how much seismic change these debates have delivered for UK politics.

The fact that we can see it as a pretty normal outcome to have all the parties sitting on around 30%+ is remarkable.  If this sustains through to 6 May this will be something that has seriously not happened in our lifetimes (assuming you don’t count the weird Labour suicide-note politics of 1983).  You see even I am getting carried away.

Clegg being stationed in the middle this time round often got squeezed and picked on, and from time to time got sucked in to the old adversarial politics (or politics as you and I would call it) which he successfully derided last time.  It’s hard to be an outsider when you’re front and centre. 

Cameron by contrast benefited from being able to stand off to one side and distance himself, seeking to peg the other two together.  Indeed they all tried this, with Gordon’s slightly naff pre-prep line of “you’re like my two boys squabbling at bathtime”.  While that neatly re-cast the youth of both opponents as inexperience, it conjured up a pretty weird image of a large paternalistic Gordon looming over a naked Nick and Dave in the bath.  At least it did for me.

We also saw how they had tried to learn from last time:  should we address the audience or address the camera?  Opting to try both, Cameron made this come off as creepy, with a slow turn to stare into the lens like a scary balloon faced clown.

Naturally there was no replay of the “I agree with Nick” – although Cameron tried a jokey “I agree with Gordon” for unknown reasons.  There was of course more overt attack on Clegg – but let’s recall, 8 days ago, Brown and Cameron would have been expecting by now simply to dismiss him as an irrelevance.

They all backed off from the policy argument by anecdote – no-one mentioned nurses in Runcorn, or policemen in Halifax, although Cameron mistakenly slipped back with “I went jogging this morning with a soldier just back from Afghanistan”. 

I also fancied I saw the hand of the party pressurisers, as we saw audience reaction shots of nodding heads and another of a stern row of three fabulously glowering women.

This was Sky-fronted and therefore had more glitz than ITV.  The most mesmerizing was their OTT exploding external projected graphics on the outside of the Arnolfini in Bristol.  I was also distracted by the fractured flag set which gave strikingly different backdrops to each leader, although to what effect it’s hard to say.  Adam Boulton looked extremely pleased with himself – for no apparent reason.

The post-event spinning was even more frantic than last time, as each point-man saw the chance to extract leverage with there being no immediately obvious victor.  David Miliband was the most fabulously on-message – I heard him on Sky, BBC news, Radio 4 and 5 live say the same thing four times running without missing a beat.  He remains my tip for succeeding a deflated GB in a post-Election rapid putsch.

So for the future, we have one more debate to go. 

What tonight’s tells us is that the Clegg effect has got serious legs.  Cameron probably can’t make that 40% break through.  And Brown hasn’t lost it entirely. 

A hung parliament remains odds on. And, lest we forget, it’s the TV debates wot did it.

Posed by arialbold


Filed under political coverage

6 responses to “Leaders’ Debate 2: the difficult second album

  1. inkface

    Could really do without that naked in the bath mental picture thank you very much. Eugh and eugh again.

  2. pauseliveaction

    Apart from the naked bath imagery another excellent assessment.

    I was highly amused at the beginning by the way Cameron and Brown had been Clegged up. Cameron was staring into the barrel of the camera as if his life depended on it, and kept using the questioners’ names. Brown looked like he’d had a small army of stylists shaving him, combing his hair and buffing him up so he looked as far on the glossy side of craggy as possible. But he really shouldn’t try smiling. His smile switches on and off randomly and sometimes inappropriately, which is an effect last seen on George W. Bush. Not something to inspire confidence.

    Clegg again came across as the most prime ministerial, although Brown was the only one to actually tackle the Pope question head-on, so points to him for that.

    Sky’s production of the thing was far better than ITV’s, with Adam Boulton being far less irritating that the ITV anchor (was it Alistair Stewart?). Could have done without Kay Burley prowling the press room afterwards though.

  3. inkface

    Oh good lord woman. You watched it. I’m so bloody impressed. I don’t have Sky mind, so I couldn’t have even if I wanted to (which I did, sort of).

  4. arialbold

    The Gordon Brown smile is truly a thing of wonder and not quite under his control. Now imagine a grinning Gordon looming over the bath tub …

  5. inkface

    I’m going to have to shoot you if you don’t stop with this bath imagery. Really, I mean it.

  6. chumbles

    I will provide the revolver.