Judge: Colm Flynn
Winner: Nick Clegg
Score: Clegg 80 | Cameron 75 | Brown 73
This was an interesting experience as living outside the UK I had not been bombarded with the different manifestos of each party. So what I saw in front of me was more or less all I could go on.
The initial couple of topics had little clash between the speakers. When some heat developed between Brown and Cameron the chairman moved the debate to Clegg and the conflict was lost as Clegg tended to move the debate away from the area of clash. It was interesting that the initial attack was not by Cameron on Brown’s record but by Brown on Cameron’s plan for 6 billion in cuts.
My reaction early on was that Clegg could be dumped from the next two debates with little loss. However as the debate rolled on it became clear that the tangents Clegg were on were actually far more sensible lines of argument than some of the vague statements being trotted out by Cameron and Brown. Then the debate moved on to the budget deficit and it was as if a light went on over Clegg. Brown was arguing for no cuts at all this year to keep the economy moving and then make savings later. Cameron said they would cut 6 billion all in waste. Clegg now came in and said the UK needed to get the deficit under control now and proposed 15 billion in cuts. For me assessing this segment I felt Clegg was considerably stronger. That prompted me to look back over his points up to then and I could see that while he was out on a tangent at times it was definitely not irrelevant in particular his contribution on the MPs expenses and education.
As the debate progressed Clegg certainly won more segments than the other two. His examples in the defence segment were far more convincing. £100 Billion for Trident? Sounds like a very high figure but it was not corrected. In fact Cameron and Brown both defended it in terms of helping defending the nation and to prevent nuclear proliferation. Someone may respond with an accurate figure for Trident but just on the debate it stands. As an argument the figure might be unconvincing but I still found it more convincing than the idea that a fundamentalist will be scared of trident.
Stylistically the format meant there wasn’t much to like or dislike. It was a debate where Brown and Cameron were the only two required to look like a prime minister while Clegg only needed to look like a potential minister. The body language in the introductions had Cameron addressing the nation like a newsreader. Brown avoided the camera and thus avoided eye contact with the nation. Clegg was more fluid and engaging with his body language. Much of the “debate” consisted of delivering pre-rehearsed sound-bites and broad concepts. Far more than you would find in a real debate. That said when the segments got going all three tended to fall into a sort of forced casual that being tied (more or less) to a podium dictated to them. The camera work was poor (especially at the beginning) and it felt to me at times that all three speakers were compensating for that by limiting their movements. By the time the summation speeches came up all three had become more comfortable speaking to camera.
So in general I found the manner and in particular the matter of Clegg to be superior to the others. Cameron just about came second because for me while there was no knock out blows the only “clanger” in the debate was the idea that Brown would not cut waste because he wanted to keep the economy going and would make savings somewhere later. Add to that the briefly mentioned argument that he had 13 years why didn’t he fix it then (came in on Lords reform) and you have to say that point undermines much of his arguments. Sure it might be a cliché and predictable but everyone knew it was coming and he didn’t have an answer for it. He tried to avoid being attacked on his record by launching the attack on Cameron on 6 billion in cuts. That had Cameron on the backfoot until the budget deficit segment when he would cut the 6 billion through cutting waste and why was Brown afraid to cut waste.
What’s the outcome of the debate. “We agree with Nick”. But next week will be interesting because I would assume Clegg will find himself under more pressure from both Brown and Cameron who will have their minnions reading the Liberal Democrats Manifesto for the first time tonight.