Sunday, April 25, 2010

Round Two

I've not had the chance to write about Thursday's debate until now. The most striking thing about it was the change in presentational style between ITV and Sky, who played the whole event less like an exercise in national democracy and more like a low-rent entertainment awards ceremony, complete with searchlights and a red carpet, although the attending leaders would have been hard pushed to spot the difference between a carpet and Kay Burley's tongue. Her presentation was exceptionally poor, dropping over into sycophancy when Dave and SamCam rolled up to the front door. Camera shots were also heavy on channel branding.

However, the debate was much more combative than the opening offer, with all three of them opening up and Clegg not being given the easy ride that he got last week. The standard of debate was significantly higher with genuine arguments being traded.

Overall, I thought that Clegg wasn't as strong as last week, although he did falter on some issues - Trident is a real weakness for them as their policy is rather confused and unlikely to offer any cost savings over the other two parties and their policy over the Euro would have been hugely damaging if they had enacted it in government and does not chime with a majority of the electorate. On these and other issues, he found himself challenged rather more than previously by both sides. He still benefits from the novelty factor when compared to the familiarity of the other two, but is starting to suffer from the scrutiny on the LD policies. The Tories should steer clear of personal attacks on Clegg, unless they have some real punch and evidence behind them - the smears of earlier this week were weak and beneath a party with pretentions to government. Personal attacks are almost certain to backfire on the originator and there is plenty to go at on Liberal policy.

Cameron had also improved - although if he could stare a little less into the camera, that might avoid frightening the viewers. He was still nowhere near the standard expected of him, but probably did just about enough to avoid further criticism. The love-in from the Tory press that followed on Friday simply wasn't justified on the basis of Cameron's performance, but they were well aware that with the debate limited to the Sky News channel (granted, it is on the lower reaches of the Freeview box) the viewing figures would be considerably less than last week and with around 4 million watching, indeed it was. This meant that the media response on the Friday was crucial in shaping the course of the argument, so it was vital that Cameron was seen to be on top form and as a winner, whatever the reality might be. And so it came pass that the front pages trumpeted his success.

In contrast, Gordon had an appalling debate and was battered against the ropes, although, naturally, this didn't match with the reality any more than did the received opinion of Cameron's performance. I know that I am biased, but if you were looking for substance and argument, I think that Gordon won hands down. He made some very strong points on Labour's performance, highlighting what was being put at risk by a Tory or Liberal government and only looked discomfited when Cameron went off on his spiel about not scaremongering - something that Gordon should have decried as gross hypocrisy on Cameron's part, given that much of the Tory campaign is built on making us scared of something. Gordon's problem is that people have made their minds up about him and are constantly being told negative things by a viciously aggressive media - elements of which seem to be actively anti-democratic in their aim of influencing voting intention.

I'm indebted to Tom Watson for pointing out a rather fine, personal and very honest blog from Labour's candidate for Pendle, the long-serving MP Gordon Prentice. He points out that the fall out from the campaign is a presidential focus on the leadership to the exclusion of any interest in the qualities of the people that we are actually electing to represent us and the reviews he posts about his Liberal Democrat opponent suggest that the good people of Pendle would be making a huge mistake if they voted Liberal rather than for Gordon. Being presidential is fine for that office - after all, the American people are electing one person to the job, so they should scrutinise them in detail. We are electing individuals to represent us and I fear that these debates are one more nail in the coffin of the constituency connection.

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