Judge: Colm Flynn
Winner: Gordon Brown
Scores: Brown 80 | Clegg 78 | Cameron 73
Tonight we saw a much better debate from Brown. From the opening speeches we had a marked improvement in his performance as the embattled incumbent was replaced by the experienced statesman. In particular he dominated the first half of the evening with his experience allowing him to give more concrete arguments while Clegg and especially Cameron often had to resort to principles and theories. That dominance faded somewhat in the second half of the debate as Clegg and to a lesser degree Cameron moved onto ground they were more comfortable with.
Some of the questions were worded in a way as to leave the candidates surrounded with potential landmines to give Sky some “Breaking News” headlines but Brown never appeared overly ruffled. He appeared to have a broader depth of knowledge on issues (Somalia, Nuclear, Embryo research) and this allowed him to navigate his way through unpredictable issues.
Having surprised many people last week Clegg was being targeted more by his two rivals. “Get real Nick” and “I agree with Gordon” showed that the two larger parties were taking the Liberal Democrat threat more seriously than in the last debate. He didn’t seem as comfortable with international issues as Brown. I continue to find his opposition to Trident more convincing than Brown and Cameron’s defence of the system but this is in danger of becoming old news if it has another prominent position next week.
When the “international” debate moved onto more unpredictable areas of the Environment and the Pope Clegg seemed far less comfortable. As I understand it the leaders don’t have the questions in advance and the link to the “international” theme for these two questions was tenuous at best. Certainly it was clear that no one had prepared for them and perhaps in these two segments the British public can see a truer picture of the abilities of their prospective leaders. At times both Clegg and Cameron looked like they would just wish the next 30 seconds were over.
Once the debate moved onto social issues Clegg came back to the performer we saw last week and finished very strongly while Brown seemed to lose momentum. He was strong on pensions, faith in politics and unsurprisingly the prospect of a coalition government. However on balance looking at the debate as a whole I believe Brown held off the late charge from Clegg.
Cameron will have resonated with existing conservative voters (especially in the areas of immigration and Europe) but never really came close to winning any particular segment for the neutral observer and looked very much out of his depth at times in the first half.
Perhaps his most confident segment was on immigration where he formed a tag team with Brown to gang up on Clegg. In contrast Europe is another area where the conservatives traditionally have strong opinions but this was the first segment and he just did not appear to have settled in to the debate and that came through in his responses.
To talk briefly about the overall debate it is worth pointing out that the moderator seemed more willing to let conflict develop rather than sticking rigidly to equal turns. However his swipe at Nick Clegg over newspaper headlines was an unwelcome intervention. The camera work was better this week than last week and there were far fewer shots of speakers in profile which will have helped all three engage with the TV audience. As mentioned earlier some of the questions seemed odd. The personal nature of the environment question made it more of a national question than an international issue and the speakers were clearly not prepared for it. The “question” on the Pope was more of an anti-Catholic rant than a question and that resulted in an important issue becoming the worst segment of the debate.
Thus to conclude I give it to Brown just ahead of Clegg with Cameron a distant third