The longest TV election night in UK history now reaches its 96th hour. Have they allowed David Dimbleby some sleep? Judging by his appearance at the hurriedly arranged 8.30 pm BBC1 Election special, he’s had a few hours kip.
But under the hallowed unwritten UK constitution it’s actually a requirement that a Dimbleby remains on TV until a new government is formed. It’s going to be a long night.
You guys all wanted a hung parliament – and this is what it’s like. We’re watching the formation of a Government in slow-mo, something that usually happens in just a few hours on the early hours of a Friday morning after the polls close.
But you’ve got to admit these are great, dramatic political events. Today (Monday) perhaps the best of all as Gordon Brown shifted the dynamic once more with his resigning as leader, but remaining PM. It’s one of the great features of that same unwritten UK constitution that we can do this – “I’m resigning as leader, but I’m still in charge of the country”. Beleaguered leaders elsewhere must see this as a pretty neat trick.
General Election Night, usually the time of highest drama as MPs fall and rise, now feels like the phony war. There was no Portillo moment then. But I think we’ve had it now, with Gordon falling on his sword outside No 10. But “were you back home in time for Gordon?”, sadly doesn’t have the same ring to it. Continue reading
I felt rather forced into watching the election debate last night by my other half, who accused me of not paying enough attention to the biggest decision this country has faced in a long time. Actually, I know all about making decisions. I am in the middle of making one right now. It’s getting warmer and it’s time to decide… will it be Gladiator sandals, flip flops or ballet pumps this summer? Anyway, I decided to show him I could take an interest in the Live Debate and besides, I love anything with Ant and Dec hosting.
After I had recovered from the initial disappointment that Ant and Dec weren’t hosting and that the audience weren’t allowed to boo anything they didn’t like, I started to listen to what these three men were saying. My husband asked if I even knew the names of the party leaders, which of course I do. David Cameron reminds me of my slimy Geography teacher; Nick Clegg looks like the dishy bloke who sold me my Renault Clio… crook… (car man not Nick Clegg); Gordon Brown looks like Crazy Bob from the pub who sings karaoke in his slippers. So now I have proved I know who they are, I feel I can comment on their policies and give my opinion on them.
To show I take an interest, I had a read of the campaign posters in the city on my way to Primark (jeggings £3). I must say though, I don’t think those with a picture of Gordon Brown’s face and the words “I took millions of pounds from pensioners last year, let me do it again” is a very good slogan for someone wanting to be Prime Minister again. Then after seeing the news from Rochdale on Wednesday, I realised he really does have it in for pensioners doesn’t he?
Last week there were discussions about Foreign Policies. Well I think we should deal with our own policies before we start bothering about theirs. So what did tonight’s debate have in store?
Tax Credits were mentioned, but no one seemed to admit if they were going to cut them, keep them or abolish them. I think the question that should be asked about tax credits is how do you fill in the huge and very complicated form correctly, so that in a month’s time they don’t ask for the money back, because (like me) you filled it in wrong and told them you had 13 children?
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. Continue reading
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″. Continue reading
Well, if you weren’t already excited by the prospect of the political leaders’ TV debates and persuaded that this is a turning point for UK politics, then Michael Cockerell’s fascinating How to win the TV debate should have changed your mind.
This was great television: television doing best what only it can do. So good that I re-watched it on iPlayer immediately (and then replayed the best bits again). It should be compulsory viewing for all voters.
In little under an hour, it provided an informed and engaging sweep across televised Presidential debates in the US, starting with the initial Nixon-Kennedy clash in 1960. And carefully, as the years and decades went by, it linked them across to the UK elections and leaders and the similar debates they often talked about, but avoided having.
This of course had the huge advantage of being TV analysing the production and impact of TV – but it used the vast range of historic footage it had skilfully and at just the right pace. It was laced together with insightful analysis from the vastly experienced political reporter, Michael Cockerell (who nicely established his credentials mid-way by including a clip from 1979 of his questioning candidate Reagan).
What made this programme fly was indeed the fine selection and presentation of archive material, drawing in Presidents and Prime Ministers and wannabe Presidents and Prime Ministers alike, plus their raft of advisers and political commentators reflecting on the debates.
Those candidates that did shine through the TV lens still standout: Clinton, even with all we know about him, was still exhilarating both in interview and in the TV debate. I’d vote for him tomorrow.
It also showed what went through their minds and how they and their advisers prepared. It had great behind the scenes footage, such as Presidents Ford and Obama preparing: Gerald Ford practicing by literally taking on a cumbersome old TV playing clips of Carter, not that it availed him much in reality. Continue reading