Judge: Ray D’Cruz
Scores: Brown 81 | Clegg 78 | Cameron 77
Brown won a reasonably close debate: he kept his messages clear and simple, but still managed to convey policy detail. He made fewer mistakes than the other two speakers.
There was no knock out blow in this debate. Everyone did reasonably well, though no one did particularly well. Winners and losers were determined on more subtle issues: the accumulation of good arguments and the consistent reinforcement of themes.
Brown’s key message of not supporting expenditure cuts at this point, given the proximity of the GFC, worked well alongside a commitment to services such as education and health. In a fragmented debate it was a key message capable of being woven through all issues. He delivered it in a strong and forthright manner.
It provided a neat contrast with Cameron’s proposed budget cuts. Brown was able to attack him for both poor economic management and endangering services. It allowed Brown to focus on his opponent and the future, rather than himself and the past. The main weakness in Brown’s case was his consistent failure to respond properly to the charge that the “jobs tax” would harm the economic recovery.
Clegg had his moments of clear policy differentiation (e.g. expenses and Trident) but he overworked the maverick thing. Time and time again, he appealed to voters to go for an outsider. While that might be the party line, the debate needed more argumentation. It got a little boring, and I even sensed he was getting tired with it when he said rather meekly in his conclusion “choose something different”. While being the outsider, he may have unwittingly given Brown the middle ground in this debate.
Clegg needed another gear, some variety in his style and clearer points of policy difference. While the debate focused mainly on social issues, he did not impact Brown on areas such as health, pensions or education, often resorting to small details to discredit current policy. He was more convincing on defence and crime where there were clearer distinctions. He needed a more coherent message on economic management.
Cameron lacked substance in this debate. Cameron’s rebuttal was often based around examples instead of policy argumentation. He constantly chose to focus on waste and budget cuts, a line of argument that Clegg eventually and very neatly nailed for its laziness and insufficiency.
Cameron’s manner was pensive from outset. Starting a debate by apologising for MP expenses was a mistake and the lack of detail that followed made his alternative vision for Britain appear vague. Not a good outcome for the alternative Prime Minister.
The clearest loser on the night for me was the set designer. Who would have thought of hosting Britain’s first televised leaders’ debate – in 2010 – on a 1980s game show set?