Last week, together with the entire British kingdom and debate enthusiasts around the world, I watched The First Leader’s Election Debate (See YouTube video above). It was indeed historic. Why exactly was it historic? Simply because it was the first such debate in British TV? Or because it might really affect the outcome of the election? Or something else?
Online analysis and commentary were immediate. The second the programme credits ran, the heavyweight pundit, CSI members of the Election Debates moved in to examine the wounds and pronounce who had died and exactly why.
What did I watch? Three British chaps. And what does that tell you? It signifies that political leadership of Britain is still 100 per cent male, two thirds public school-educated and 100 per cent white. It also told us that Gordon Brown always has a three-point plan and drops his chin impossibly low. David Cameron has a small mouth, lifts his chin impossibly high, and absolutely understands the plight of the immigrant population from meeting a black man. Nick Clegg is neither of the other two and had the privilege of meeting a man who had his apartment broken into five times.
Cameron offered an apology in his opening statement, “I’m extremely sorry for what happened,” and then insisting: “Politics has been a mess for all of us.” Brown declared himself “shocked and saddened”, while Clegg offered a plague on both their houses. “Neither of you want to clear up the system,” he said.
The fierce exchanges were covered with only the thinnest semblance of politeness, with first-name terms covering first-class animosity. “Please, David, no more hereditary peers,” offered Brown. The response from Cameron was immediate: “Gordon, you have had 13 years to sort out the House of Lords.” Brown then insisted “Nick supports me”, but Clegg snorted: “There is absolutely nothing to support … I support a complete clean-up and direct elections to the House of Lords.”
As the leaders of the two larger parties slugged it out, Clegg seized his chance to gallop on to the moral high ground. “The more they attack each other the more they sound exactly the same… all I ask for is a bit of honesty.”
Overall, Cameron appeared assured and calm. Brown was a solid presence. Clegg gained the sort of platform his predecessors could only dream of. Was there a winner? There was no killer blow. The only clear winners are the voters, who were treated to the sight of the fact that our master politicians is not much different from any of us on a single stage.
To read the comments from our debate pundits, click here. Below are the debaters and why I’m not one of the pundits:
‘The more they attack each other the more they sound exactly the same’
‘I’m here to persuade you there is an alternative’
Best plot: Remembering the names of several audience members and returning to them in subsequent questions — and slapping down Gordon Brown when he suggested they were in agreement over how to clean up politics
Worst plot: Repeatedly saying he thought he had all the good ideas first
Orientation: The hand in the pocket said it all. Looked at ease behind the podium, free-flowing style, interacting easily with the audience and the only one with the confidence to make a joke about the debate rules. “I know I can’t ask you a question because that’s against the rules but just nod if you agree”
Election Debates Verdict: 50%
‘Gordon says Nick agrees with Gordon but Nick says he doesn’t agree with Gordon. So I’m confused’
‘We need to join together and we need to come together’
Best plot: Looking like a possible war leader, particularly on Afghanistan. Taking on Gordon Brown over helicopters and equipment, while fluently arguing with Nick Clegg for the maintenance of the nuclear deterrent
Worst plot: Struggling and awkwardly attempting to force several issues — education and health — into an argument over national insurance
Orientation: Fluent, serious attempt to project stature but often looked ill at ease. Disastrous pursed lips. Awkward hand movements. Repeatedly tried the “what Gordon Brown isn’t telling you” strategy
Election Debates Verdict: 0%
‘This isn’t question time, David, it’s answer time’
‘These are no ordinary times and this is no ordinary election’
Best plot: Securing the first laugh of the evening by thanking David Cameron for putting up smiling posters of him, “paid for by Lord Ashcroft”
Worst plot: Repeatedly hectoring David Cameron — and saying that spending on police will continue to rise. Labour’s pledge is that police numbers will be maintained, not that police funding will go up
Orientation: If he was going down, he was going to take David Cameron along with him. So out came the airbrush-sarcasms and the dagger smile, coupled with frantic notewriting
Election Debates Verdict: 50%