So, we've now had our first leader's debate in the UK, and honestly, it was better than I expected. The leaders did look nervous at the start, but that's to be expected given the situation. Of course this American style is quite artificial, we don't elect Brown or Cameron or Clegg (unless they happen to be your prospective MP) - we elect an MP - the PM becomes PM indirectly.
The rules did get in the way a few times, for example when the timing rules caused the moderator to jump around between the leaders in a way more akin to University Challenge in a tense final. I really didn't like that the audience were totally silent, except when asking questions - it just wasn't natural.
None of the leaders said anything particularly memorable, not one of them has even a tenth of the charisma of Obama, if they did they'd make mincemeat of the others. I'm writing this the next day, and I'm really struggling to recall any specifics. This is rather disappointing.
Throughout the debate, there were tracking polls taking place. The guardian produced this graph:
This poll was produced by asking a sample of people to rate each leader as they spoke. I know this is often done with a dial, which is rotated to the right for approval, and the left for disapproval - not sure how it was done here. The combined responses of this instant survey were were used to produce the graph. It's clear that Nick Clegg went down best of all (although it remains to be seen in this affects the polls). The graphs all return to zero at the end as the debate finished.
For me, the leaders relied far too much on personal anecdote. It was a style which seemed quite false, like a standup comedian telling a shaggy dog story 'I was walking down the street one day, and a man came up to me... true story... and said...'.
David Cameron made direct reference to his son. Though these are tragic circumstances and the events will have given him insight into the NHS, I'm sorry to say that it did feel rather exploitative. I'm sure that it wasn't meant like that, after all, it was the man's son - but that's how it played.
Gordon Brown didn't make the mistake of trying to smile too much. It simply doesn't work for him. He did appear the most prime-ministerial, but given that he is the prime-minister, that's to be expected.
Though Clegg genuinely did well, he did make a classic error at the start by referring to the other leaders as 'these two', it made it look like he didn't remember their names. There was an episode of 'West Wing' when Bartlett is being coached not to refer to his opponent by name , and he responded angrily that not to do so would make him look silly. Brown and Cameron each didn't know where to look, Clegg had thought through whether he was addressing the camera or the audience, and he didn't try to do both at the same time.
Cameron's closing speech was directly referencing JFK, I thought - 'ask not what your Conservative Party can do for you....' okay, he didn't say that, but it did have that flavour.
Brown talked of reforming this or that, but didn't address the fundamental issue of why his government had not done that yet. Beware of a fully elected Lords if elected on the same basis as the commons. I'd rather have three member constituencies with one member elected every three elections (thus each lord has a 15-ish year term). This gives a chamber which reflects the wishes of the country without mirroring the commons, it gives individual lords a longer time-frame so they can act without reference to the whip if need be, as well as giving the electorate influence in the short term.
Of course, each party is saying that their guy 'won'. I really don't see how the Conservatives can say that (except by relating to heightened expectations).
The snap poll verdicts were as follows:
- Lib Dem Voice on Michael Gove and on the Debate itself
- The Independent's Verdict
- The Daily Dish calls the debate for Cameron
- The Daily Beast's take on the debate
- Currybet has a video of how the debate developed on the web
- The Inquiring Mind looks at political cartooning
- SkepticLawyer said that No-one actually won or lost tonight because nothing actually happened
- PoliticalBetting asks if Clegg can take the Lib Dems past Labour
- The FT offers its thoughts