Will it matter? It’s debatable

Everyone is blogging about last night’s debate and who am I to buck a trend? I like to write lighthearted posts with a touch of humour, but it’s hard to be funny about the debates. I blogged last night on why I don’t think we should have them in this country. I still feel the same. We don’t have a presidential system. We don’t vote for one man. If you vote for Cameron, you have to remember you’re getting Osborne, Letwin, and Grayling too. However, that didn’t stop me watching the show, along with 9 million others. 7 million of whom were probably journalists.

And I have to say, as I suspect most honest commentators will, that Clegg won the debate. But is that surprising? He is the third nag in a 2-horse race. Or he was. Expectations were non-existant. The fact he was in the debate at all was a win. Still, he made the most of his opportunity. The immediate polling of how well he did made  him clear winner. What will be interesting is how that translates into voter intention come Sunday or Monday. That’s the important part. What needs to be remembered as well is that there are two more debates. There is no longer no expectation of Clegg. Now he’s the leader, will people score him as highly in the next debates or will they lose interest?

Gordon Brown did ok. No killer blow, no major gaffes. It was nice to see him crack a couple of jokes and get a few digs in at Cameron. He also entered the debate as an underdog despite being the Prime Minister. The media have talked down his debating skills for a long time. But he did well. He defended his positions and made a few digs at Cameron. He cracked a joke or two, unsettled Cameron, and avoided long lists of statistics. He provided substance and I think he’ll only be more confident going into the remaining debates.

David Cameron had everything to play for. He’s created an image of being a great presenter, speaker, and debater. Town hall meetings and Q and A sessions up and down the country. But, as I said yesterday, he’s great on soundbites and terrible on detail and depth. He looked lost at points and once he got past his pre-prepared lines, he struggled. He relied heavily on dubious-sounding anecdotes, my favourite of which is

“I was in Plymouth recently and a 40-year old black man made the point to me: ‘I came here when I was six, I’ve served in the Royal Navy for 30 years, I’m incredibly proud of my country’.”

Possibly a slip of the tongue, but I noted it at the time and said on the Leftfootforward liveblog that if he can’t do that simple sum, how can he be trusted with the country’s economy? As well as this piece of fiction slip of the tongue, he made a pretty serious error for a man who could be PM in a fortnight. When asked why we need to keep nuclear weapons, he said

“Are we really happy to say that we’d give up our independent nuclear deterrent when we don’t know what is going to happen with Iran, we can’t be certain of the future in China?”

 

That’s a serious diplomatic incident in the making as China won’t take kindly to being grouped in with Iran at all.  David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, released the following statement:

“To put China and Iran in the same bracket is an insult to a fellow permanent member of the UN security council and to a country with whom we have just announced a close strategic relationship. David Cameron should withdraw this slur now.”

So Cameron was the big loser on the night. Which I think surprised most of the press and politicos. Part of his problem now is that was the home affairs debate. The Tory home turf. Their strongest area. It’s downhill from now. Next comes international affairs, where he gets hammered over Europe. Then finally it’s the economy, where the Conservatives ballsed up all their decisions.

Will any of this make any difference to the election? Who knows? This is all new territory in the UK. Clegg performed well but did he take any votes from anyone? And, if so, who? There’ll be a nervous wait in the Labour and Tory campaign HQs for the next 48 hours or so that’s for sure.

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