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GE2015: The seven party TV debate where everyone and no-one won

Friday, April 03, 2015

 

Following last night's Leaders debate today's newspaper coverage is all over the place, as were predictably last night's polls.

Some say Cameron won, errrr what debate were you watching? Some, which I agree with, say Miliband won. Others think that Farage walked it and one pollster called it for Nicola Sturgeon by a pretty large margin. The truth is most people, especially in the 'spin-room', probably called it before it was even televised last night.

So, what did the Leaders debate tell us and will it change how we vote on May 7th? It did not tell us much to be fair, and I doubt, whether or not, last night won or lost the election for either Ed Miliband or David Cameron, but here is my objective take on how the party leaders performed.

Natalie Bennett - Green Party

The Green Party leader was first up. A little nervous to begin with, looking down at her notes, but she got into her stride, pushing all the buttons her supporters would have expected of her, more foreign aid, she honed in on poverty and social care and promised a truly public NHS. 

More immigration and ‘hope not fear’ was her mantra. She also rightly lambasted David Cameron on the derisory number of Syrian refugees that we have allowed into the UK since the conflict there started in 2011. Just 137. 

Strangely, her performance lacked any real emphasis on traditional Green stuff, renewable energy, recycling etc etc but she ended with a plea of not ‘trashing our planet. Overall, she did well – held her own considering her recent car crash interviews on LBC and the BBC Sunday Politics. 

Result: 5 out of 10

David Cameron - Conservative Party

Then came the Prime Minister. It was clear from the outset, he was looking at his watch and could not wait to get the bus home. By looking to hide for all the right tactical reasons he actually became a bit of a fringe participant – he had very little appetite to stand there and defend his record in Government. Maybe that was deliberate but it could also be viewed as a missed opportunity.

To be fair to Cameron he was on the end of a six way bashing. Every time he reluctantly tried to get on the front foot, he was bashed around by little Nicola Sturgeon and Nick Clegg who looked like a tory hating obsessive. You would never have guessed Cameron had been his coalition partner for the last five years.

Overall, I have to say Cameron was flat. Even at the end when he said ‘Let us finish the job, don’t put it all at risk’ he looked like he hardly meant it.

He survived and considering it was a poor performance he came out well in the polls that followed. Not a great night for the PM. 

Result: 4 out of 10

Nick Clegg - Liberal Democrats

Up then steps Nick Clegg, who I have to say, I think is excellent at these types of occasion. He appeared to be the most comfortable of all the leaders up there and he tried tirelessly to get his message across. Sadly, nobody seemed to be listening and this time around nobody was agreeing with Nick.

He struggled to be heard on any of the issues being debated – drowned out and choked on his own lack of credibility – he did spark into life once and asked Ed Miliband to apologise for crashing the economy after he apologised again for trebling tuition fees, an act he and his party have simply not recovered from. 

He mentioned the word ‘fair’ and fairness’ several times – this would form the cornerstone of the Lib Dem manifesto, but students, those standing in line at the food banks and those being thrown out of their homes due to the bedroom tax might take issue with his interpretation of fair and fairness. 

Overall, a good debater, no doubt about that, but nobody was listening or taking him seriously that hurt him badly, I think the Lib Dems are in big trouble on May

Result: 4 out of 10

Nigel Farage - UKIP

Next up the bookies favourite to win the debate, Nigel Farage. Farage was certainly the most animated of the party leaders. He smiled, shrugged his shoulders, laughed, raised the odd eyebrow and shook his head has he listened to the political establishment go through the motions. He looked a little sweaty at times but he was soon into his stride, coming across as a conviction politician. Here perhaps was a leader who in a less rehearsed way believed every word that was coming out of his mouth.

He whacked his opponents around and pointed out their slavish worship of political correctness, told them in no uncertain terms why all of them were unable to control immigration and Leanne Wood, the Plaid Cymru leader, gave us the first I agree with Nigel moment of the night on that one. 

There were no major UKIP gaffes or wayward figures. He stuck to the facts and to the figures quite well – despite one moment that could have started an unravelling when he mentioned the HIV health tourists coming to the UK. The point he made was perhaps valid about funding choices, but the language and singling out of HIV sufferers was clumsy.

Overall, no great problems for him, he failed to land any killer blows but his poll rating after the show were justified. He gave a solid performance but nothing that would set the campaign on fire at this stage.

Result: 6 out of 10

Ed Miliband - Labour Party

Then it was the turn of Ed Miliband. I thought he was the overall winner on the night. He appeared assured and calm throughout, dare I say, even Prime Ministerial.

He was off from the starting gun, laying out in detail Labour’s election pledges on the economy, the NHS, fairness in society and immigration. He spoke passionately about why he did not support an in out EU vote and repeated how Labour would raise taxes.

He had clearly prepared well. Facts and figures at his fingertips, hand gestures a plenty, taking Cameron to task at every opportunity and apart from noticing he had adopted the awkward Gordon Brown smile and looking directly into the camera with it – pulled off a very polished performance.

He got lucky though, Cameron and Clegg did not try once to exploit the array of left wing options on the stage for Miliband to form a Coalition with – had they done that, Miliband may have been on the back foot, as it was, he remained on the front foot throughout and for me the clear winner.

Result: 8 out of 10

Nicola Sturgeon - Scottish National Party

Now came the surprise and in some ways the star of the show last night, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. She was in command of her brief, strong, confident and very good. She did not shy away from getting stuck into both Cameron and Miliband and even bashed Farage around quite a bit.

She tried to widen her appeal beyond Scotland into England and Wales as 'friends' but I'm not sure her apparent sincerity on that score will have been accepted as genuine.

She made good points on her progressive, socialist agenda and made demands on Cameron that she wanted a veto on UK withdrawal from the EU.

In her opening remarks she extended the hand of friendship to England and Wales and in her closing remarks urged voters to go for something ‘different, better and progressive’. Overall, a very strong performance and she could be the one who delivers Independence for Scotland. Much more impressive than Alex Salmond.

Result: 7 out of 10


Leanne Wood - Plaid Cymru

And finally, Leanne Wood, for Plaid Cymru. Well she started off as she finished talking only about Wales and for a UK leaders debate it was a bit parochial and territorial but understandable.

She clashed with Nigel Farage early on telling him he should be ashamed of his anti-immigrant rhetoric and that triggered the first applause from a mainly subdued studio audience with the exception of the heckler near the end of the show.

She was appealing to voters in Wales only so that limited her impact overall. She seemed to be nervous throughout, referring constantly to her written notes which limited her ability to look as assured and as confident as Nicola Sturgeon. Overall, the weakest leader on the night but her finish of a few words in Welsh and her unashamed Welsh tone all night may have landed her a few more votes, which let's face it was the aim.

Result: 3 out of 10


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