Judge: Jason Jarvis
Winner: Gordon Brown
Scores: Brown 84 | Clegg 80 | Cameron 79
This was an interesting debate, with a few lively exchanges generating clear differences and interesting agreements between candidates. Gordon Brown was a clear winner in this debate with Nick Clegg coming in second and David Cameron registering a close third. Brown was very effective in discussing foreign policy and gained an advantage early in the debate that he refused to relinquish. He was both stylistically and analytically sharp.
Brown appeared to be extremely comfortable dealing with both foreign and domestic policy, repeatedly hammering home the fact that he is experienced and actively working on the problems facing the United Kingdom. The most powerful element of his presentation was the ability to weave the theme of economics into many different topics. Additionally, his grasp of the issues was superior to his opponents, something he highlighted on several occasions.
The debate began by focusing on two major foreign issues: the relationship between the United Kingdom and Europe, and the future of military intervention in Afghanistan and in fighting terrorism in general. The theme of economics was reminiscent of Clinton’s clichéd mantra: “It’s the economy, stupid.” On the European Union, Brown was very effective at linking jobs to the debate, arguing that by maintaining a good relationship and engaging more closely with the EU, the UK gained 3 million additional jobs. He pointedly challenged Cameron on this issue, noting that the Conservative party would destroy relations with Europe by raising old battles over British independence.
Brown returned to the theme of economics as the debate progressed into a discussion of climate change. He argued strongly in favor of energy independence and the production of enhanced wind and solar power as well as nuclear power in order to achieve an “energy balance.” During the second half of the debate, he returned to the economic theme and challenged Cameron on Conservative tax policies that hurt the middle class and the poor while promoting the needs of the “top 3 percent” of people in the country.
Throughout the second half of the debate, he continued to expand on this theme suggesting that if politicians talked together they would need to focus on the economy. This would help both restore faith in politics, and ensure productive discussions. Additionally, on immigration he indicated that he would work to protect local jobs through a points system similar to the one in Australia.
Brown’s other major strength was his ability to identify critical issues and illustrate his more advanced grasp of them. On Iran and North Korea he chastised Clegg for a poor understanding of the security threat facing the United Kingdom demanding that Clegg “Get Real!” on the issue. Clegg never answered this issue.
Additionally, he highlighted his deeper understanding of terrorism by pointing out that he would be honest with the audience and makes it clear that there would be a need for British soldiers to fight terrorism all over the world particularly in places like Yemen and Somalia where training grounds exist.
Clegg suffered early in the debate because his analysis of both Europe and Afghanistan was quite poor. On Afghanistan, he tried to make a case for better equipment, but his argument was effectively answered by Brown, who pointed out that tactics and equipment have had to change as the enemy has changed its tactics.
Clegg’s position on Europe seemed especially incoherent. On the one hand, he suggested that he supported closer engagement with Europe and provided a list of reasons why it was important to be close to Europe (thereby supporting Brown). On the other hand, he suggested that the country should have a national referendum on the entire issue. While this might appeal to people who fear engagement, he did not explain how the referendum would achieve this goal.
He sounded terrible on nuclear energy. Clegg’s energy policy is renewable energy without nuclear power. When pressed by Brown how to achieve energy independence without nuclear power (as no other country has done), he failed to articulate a clear position beyond suggesting that greater insulation (echoing Cameron) and investment in other renewable technologies would be a good policy. While Clegg was a good speaker, his grasp of the issues seemed to be below that of Brown and he failed to articulate clear ways in which the policies that he advocated would be superior to those of the Labour party.
Cameron was effective at articulating strong differences between himself and his opponents. At the same time, he appeared to be out of touch with middle class voters and was not effective at demonstrating that the policies of the Brown administration were actually detrimental to the nation. It appeared that Cameron was appealing to a segment of society rather than to the nation as a whole.
Cameron was particularly ineffective at countering the charges of Brown against the failure of past conservative policies regarding the relationship between Europe and the United Kingdom. While he sounded credible in discussing Afghanistan, noting that he was there four times, he failed to identify an alternative policy, giving an explanation that was long on patriotism and short of substantive changes he desires to see made. On the issue of nuclear weapons, he supported Brown.
On climate change, Cameron at least provided some policy changes when he advocated a “Green Deal” for all homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient. He was outspoken against the “Jobs Tax” but unable to explain how his policies would benefit the middle class and looked silly when attempting to explain his “hard cap” on immigration.