Friday, 16 April 2010

The First UK Election Debate: My Thoughts

So, the first ever televised Prime-Ministerial debate has been and gone.  ITV broadcast the 90 minute show last night (15th April 2010) to massive reaction and commentary on social networking sites, television and I'm sure in the newspapers this morning.  The polls all seem to indicate a significant victory for the Liberal Democrat's Prime-Ministerial candidate, Nick Clegg, and I for one agree that he had by far the best showing of the three on the night.  The question that is left echoing round in my head, though, is "Will it make any difference?".

More than Gordon Brown, and certainly more than Conservative candidate David Cameron, Clegg looked comfortable and even confident very quickly behind his podium. He conducted himself with grace and poise, and actually came close to really answering the questions - Not something we are necessarily used to from our politicians!

In a fashion rather reminiscent of American Election politics, the "Senior party members" rolled out by each party as spokespeople for the BBC's Question Time programme, which began shortly after the debate came to a close, were well briefed by their advisors and campaign bods to focus on their man's best talking points, and the "spin" was in full swing throughout this programme. Each of the three main parties were represented, and all attempting to spin their leader's performance to appear better, or less of a disappointment, than it was. This side of campaigning, and politics in general, most of us could probably do without. The endless posturing gets rather tiresome after a while, but unfortunately that is a side-effect of party politics.

The Liberal Democrats will, quite rightly, feel that last night was a good night for them. They have been handed a poor performance by David Cameron to attack, and Gordon Brown has the burden of having to defend 13 years of Labour policy - Not an easy proposition in the current political climate. Admittedly, with virtually no expectation on his shoulders, as by far the least well-known of the three candidates, Nick Clegg had an easy ride in the first debate.  It was in the interests of neither Gordon Brown, nor David Cameron, to launch an attack against a candidate and a party which they both would presumably have considered only as an afterthought up to this point, and maybe as a possible ally in the event of a hung parliament. In fact, there were large periods of time up on the stage during which Cameron and Brown appeared to forget that there was a third person up there with them as they fell back in to the all-too-familiar cycle of back-biting and one-upmanship.  Clegg though, to his credit, maintained his composure and continued to make his point clearly and concisely throughout the debate. His performance, combined with the lack of any weight of expectation upon him, will undoubtedly propel him into the public eye in today's newspapers. The real challenge will come in the next two debates where the public, and perhaps more importantly, the media, will have high expectations for him to acquit himself every bit as well as he did last night.

The problem, though, is that the Liberal Democrats have long been a party that we as a country love to love, but have been somewhat reluctant to actually cast a vote for. I remember back in the 1990s when Paddy Ashdown was leader of the LibDems - He was perhaps the most popular politician in the country, but still only comparatively very small numbers would vote for his party in a general election. In my opinion, this boils down in large part to the fact that we as the British public still have this misconception that the LibDems are the third party in a two party system. Nick Clegg came out in this debate and clearly made a concerted effort to convince us that his party are indeed a viable option, and to that end, I feel that he did well. I will be very interested to see how his opponents respond in the next debate - Clearly some changes need to be made to limit the damage the LibDems must be doing to their potential vote counts.

If nothing else, this debate has thrown the election at the publics' feet, has widened the field, and has even shown that, whilst it may lack that certain "shiny" quality that only comes from American politics, British politics can, indeed, be interesting. Hopefully, this will encourage more people to pay attention in the weeks leading to the impending election.

1 comment:

Paulb said...

Interesting analysis. Am seeing an increasing amount of coverage of just how high a percentage of the vote the LibDems will need just to get the same number of seats as the other parties - wonder how big a factor that might play in people pulling back from a LibDem vote.