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The Leaders Debate: a review

Jonathan Schofield wants more from the three men who want his support, and wants less of Alastair Stewart

Written by . Published on November 2nd 2010.


The Leaders Debate: a review

“It's changing the face of British politics.”

“It's a revolutionary moment in British broadcasting history.”

“Manchester is making political history.”

Nick Clegg got particularly annoyed about Gordon Brown's attempt, whilst discussing electoral reform, to flirt with him. Gordon was almost fluttering his eyes, almost saying 'come on baby, we can do coalition, you know you want to, just say yes and we can do it – together'.

Broadcasting voices were a bit crazed on Thursday as the ITV Leaders Debate came to the city. Broadcasting wanted to tell us how very very important the debate was. They wanted to make sure we knew this. Broadcasting is nothing if not utterly self-regarding.

The three men they were talking about didn't at first seem to appreciate all the hullabaloo. Stood on their Granada Studios stage in various subtle shades - pale grey suit with yellow tie, navy blue with Manchester City coloured tie and black with pink tie – they shuffled about a bit, looking shifty.

When they got used to things, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, was the most confident in body language, leaning forward, leaning backwards, sticking a casual hand in a trouser pocket, like a kid in a playground who thinks he owns the school. He was the only one who was prepared to look his opponents in the eyes.

David Cameron was strangely muted, trying to show a gentler side to Toryism, but ending up looking like a person lacking in confidence.

Gordon Brown seemed as confident as Clegg, but kept sporting the unnerving smile of the slightly unhinged.

They had all their tactics ready. Gordon mentioned the 'values' of his upbringing after 28 minutes of the ninety minute programme and would mention his parents and childhood three more times. Honesty was another of his key words. “Come on David,” he kept repeating, “let's be honest here...” Which seemed rich for a politician who'd been in power through the Iraq crisis.

David kept referring to his own children, and said 'hard-working' so many times it must have been hard-work. Nick Clegg kept going on about 'my city, Sheffield' as though he were worried about being re-elected. He wanted 'openness'. He wanted so much openness there was a danger he might spill bedroom secrets.

The only attempts at any wit came from Gordon, “David, you can't airbrush your policies, like you can airbrush your posters.”

The only attempt at any anger and passion came from Nick Clegg. He got annoyed about Gordon Brown's attempt, whilst discussing electoral reform, to flirt with him. Gordon was almost fluttering his eyes, almost saying 'come on baby, we can do coalition, you know you want to, just say yes and we can do it – together'.

After the third time of Gordon saying, “I agree with Nick and I think he agrees with me”, Nick audibly went “Pah!” When Gordon a minute later said, “Nick supports me on this,” Nick interjected petulantly, “There's nothing to support.”

Confidential marked each policy element of the date – intro, immigration, expenses, education, economy, defence, health and conclusion - as an outright win for one point and as a shared victory for half a point.

Gordon Brown got 2.5, David Cameron 3 and Nick Clegg 4.5. This was a surprise because in terms of personality David Cameron was more wooden than a log.

Still, whether 'Manchester made political history' is another thing. What happened was merely something that should have happened a couple of decades earlier.

It was interesting but not critical for the election. Above all, the debates need more energy, more wit, more passion, more verve, more direct questioning and more audience reaction to feed the politicians apetite for fight. The programme even needs a better set design. Personally I'd prefer them round a table, not at lecterns, looking each other in the eye, really letting go. We don't have to do everything like the Americans.

What the show doesn't need is Alastair Stewart. One of the oddest parts to the whole proceeding was his weird shrill barks of “David Cameron!” or “Nick Clegg!” He should calm down, or learn to interrupt at the right time.

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