The First Election Debate – Review

By DeusExMacintosh

High Office isn’t as high as it used to be OR a message of fear, a message of hope and a message of exasperation.

Usually if an hour and a half of television is going to be this tedious I can reasonably expect to see a little white ball being chased across a field by skinny men wearing shorts. I suspect that the boredom derives from the same source in both instances – that I’m simply not the target audience for the occasion – it’s just odd that in the case of politics it’s not actually due to lack of interest.

In fact I happen to be a genuinely undecided voter whose idea of a good time is pretty much any political coverage I can find, even when that means setting my alarm for Andrew Marr on a Sunday morning. Unfortunately this means that the First Election Debate was a bit like sitting through a first season NCIS re-run: it was enjoyable enough the first ten times but has now become unbearable. Scouring the news over the last month I’ve heard half a dozen different Conservative spokesman call Labour’s proposed rise in National Insurance a “tax on jobs”, and as many Labour spokesmen claim that “Tory cuts will risk the recovery”. One of the few benefits of the three-way debate format was that the Liberal Democrat soundbites did at least have some novelty value as most MSM coverage tends to forget that they exist. Even so, at the current rate I’m a little concerned that by the time of the third debate all three of the party leaders will have run out of anything to say.

Nick Clegg (Lib) performed admirably as a speaker when answering questions, though his preliminary opening statement would have been better staged at arena-size Party Conference rather than an intimate debate in a television studio. David Cameron (Con) was a completely sincere and note perfect speaker throughout, though I’m damned if I can remember anything he actually said now that it’s all over. Gordon Brown (Lab) veered between savaging Cameron and attempting to crawl up Clegg’s fundament, while arguing simultaneously that Britain will get jam tomorrow AND is actually getting it already. His performance struck me as a trifle unbalanced in more ways than one.

The one lonely policy that hadn’t already been prostituted across every available airwave was the Liberal desire to add geographic restrictions on migrant work permits Australian/Canadian-style. It probably didn’t help my flagging interest that every second question was on devolved powers (such as law and order, education or health) which made the answers entirely irrelevant to Scottish viewers like myself. I gave up on the final question entirely in fear for the state of my tooth enamel after grinding my teeth for so long.

No-one actually won or lost tonight because nothing actually happened, and apart from an exercise in demonstrating the differing emotional approach being taken by each of the party campaigns, content-wise the three men may as well have been clearing their throats for an hour and a half.

Watching engaging and experienced senior party officials duking it out on Channel 4 news for twenty-minutes at a time is a televisual treat during the week [who can forget Peter Mandelson vs. Ken Clarke or Vince Cable vs. Anybody].

All I can say after tonight is thank Christ I don’t have Sky so I don’t have to waste another hour and a half on the second debate next week.


Gordon Brown: Vote Labour or you’re doomed, DOOMED!

David Cameron: Vote for me, I’m such a nice chap.

Nick Clegg: You’re both full of it.

UPDATE: Murky has an excellent collection of debate reactions here.


  1. Posted April 16, 2010 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Sounds like the Lib Dems did ok out of this.

    “add geographic restrictions on migrant work permits Australian/Canadian-style.”

    So you’d have to, say, go to Leeds, or Wales, or something, if that’s where the need was?

    Not necessarily a bad idea. London tends to suck people in. When I went over I was talking to recruiters in Leeds but found a first job in London, and just settled in there. The paralegalling work I did at a big firm was never going to lead to more substantive stuff, and I pottered through a couple of in house contracts before coming home.

    It’s hard to tell, but I think I might have had a substantially different experience in Leeds or elsewhere, maybe getting the chance to switch into more substantive work and become a proper lawyer. It would certainly have been different to NOT be one of 200,000 odd antipodeans crawling through the city’s pubs…

    If only I’d seen North Square by then…

  2. Posted April 16, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I’ll be copping the debate on sky… I hope it gets more interesting than this one was. I suppose it goes to show that politicians are just as capable of taking boring pills as the rest of us.

  3. Posted April 16, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    DEM: This post made me laugh out loud, thanks.

    (I am sure the two large cocktails I recently consumed had nothing to do with that 🙂 )

  4. Labor Outsider
    Posted April 16, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    I watched the debate live on sky as well and found it a bit underwhelming. I think that is partly because it is a new thing and both the politicians and the media outfits running the debates still haven’t worked out how to be most effective.

    The most amusing things were watching each of them compete over who was folksier, though Gordon was at a disadvantage there, and then over who loved the NHS more.

    When you watch Brown in a forum like that he really does come across as socially awkward. Knowledgable yes, but he looks like a character out of a horror movie, with the facial tics to go with it…

    Cameron is very slick, even if most of his arguments were rubbish.

    Clegg obviously benefited through the additional exposure, not having been tainted with power, and by the fact that neither Brown nor Cameron were prepared to really attack him.

    A hung parliament just became more likely.

  5. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted April 17, 2010 at 12:30 am | Permalink

    When I lived in the UK, I lived “oop North” – it’s definitely very different to down South. I recommend it. I still love the North of England as a result. I think my favourite English city of all is York. Okay I never learned to like mushy peas or cod and chips cooked in beef dripping, but I did love English ales and stouts.

    Chip barm… Mmm {salivates}

    I really wish they had made do with a “leaders special” edition of Question Time – it’s an effective and interesting format where the audience is a) larger and b) gets to participate properly – but then the main purpose for these debates was always the vain attempt to legitimise Sky News (they started the call for debates and someone was silly enough to say yes). We get three debates in the name of fairness to the three main networks.

  6. Posted April 17, 2010 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    Murky has an excellent collection of links to various debate reactions here.

  7. JuliaThorn
    Posted April 17, 2010 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I do not know which one did best but one thing I did not expect this year, and that is the use of social media web sites like twitter, I have been following this year’s elections at and the use of twitter is outstanding.

  8. Posted April 17, 2010 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    I liked Cameron’s line on that, “Too many tweets make a tw*t.”

  9. Posted April 19, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    That phrase, I suspect, is going to wind up on Cameron’s headstone. It’s just too fabulous to ignore.

    Interestingly, latest Betfair seat forecast has the Tories on 310 seats, Labour on 251 and the Lib Dems on 59, while the YouGov poll has the LibDems on 33%, the Tories on 32% and Labour on 26%, with the BNP/Greens on 9%.

    Three observations:

    1. The British are engaging in the national past-time of lying to pollsters.

    2. We are still heading for a hung parliament.

    3. This will be fun.

  10. Posted April 20, 2010 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    I see Christopher Booker is doing a nice line in doomsaying.

    From the other side of the planet, why aren’t the Tories romping home? Is it because Cameron has tried so hard to be all things to all folk that he has ended up being not much to anyone in particular?

  11. Posted April 20, 2010 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    A range of factors go into it, Lorenzo. Vince Cable predicting the GFC is probably the biggest. Cable is a genuine moderate libertarian, which is why he’s finished up in the LibDems, not the Tories — he’s opposed to the Iraq war and wants to repeal a lot of the anti-terror law, as well as raise the tax free threshold to £10,000. Cameron trying to be all things to all men probably comes into it as well.

    There is a real possibility that Labour will come third in this election (in terms of numbers of votes) which would make pressure for voting reform irresistible. If voting reform went through under that scenario (and we’d only need preferential voting, what the Brits call the ‘alternative vote’), the Tories would govern, the LibDems would be in opposition and Labour would never govern again. If that happens, we will return to the ‘natural’ state of British politics, which is ‘Whigs v Tories’. Now that there isn’t much of a working class to speak of (and what little there is, Labour has abandoned), this is probably appropriate.

  12. Posted April 25, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    On Cable’s points since my view is don’t agree but arguable case, good on him and good for him, I can appreciate the appeal.

    As a strong supporter of preferential voting, I hope that does result from the election.

3 Trackbacks

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