Judge: Omar Salahuddin
Winner: Nick Clegg
Scores: Clegg 83 | Cameron 79 | Brown 78
I gave the debate by a clear margin to Nick Clegg. I felt that David Cameron was some distance behind Clegg in second, and separated from Brown in third by a fairly slim margin.
In general terms, Nick Clegg just seemed more “reasonable” in his expression of views throughout the debate. He seemed as if he really had the interests of those who asked questions (voter representatives) at heart and was strenuous in his efforts to really answer them. Moreover, his engagement in the debate seemed much more spontaneous than either of the other two and his down-to-earth manner was very voter-friendly.
David Cameron came across as much less well-organised. Some of his responses, particularly on European Union considerations, sounded very like a retrograde throw-back to Thatcherism; something that Brown tried, (somewhat unsuccessfully, it has to be said) to paint as such in various asides. He seemed to be engaged in an effort to conflict directly with Brown, rather than focus on trying to persuade those watching that he actually knows what he wants to do.
Gordon Brown, somewhat to the contrary, seemed over-prepared, in that his responses appeared to stick closely to a script, rather than respond to the specific dynamic evolving at the time. I really began to tire quickly of the way in which he played the ‘incumbent card’, falling back on references to what he had done/was doing/would be doing by the end of the year, and studiously avoiding having to deal with the problems that such policies seem to be running into.
Opening comments: Brown’s opening statements seemed very much like so much throat clearing, and had little impact as a result. Cameron identified Brown as his major target, and then Clegg introduced the bones of his stance as being a return of Britain to a leadership role and the importance of dealing with climate change. Sorry, but I though that these openings were wasted space.
Even though this was supposed to be a debate on Foreign policy and international issues, significantly less than half actually was. Clegg managed to return a couple of times to the international spectrum in references made during his responses to more general questions, but the other two seemed content to tiptoe around the issues pertaining to Afghanistan, the Pope (and abuse, homosexuality and science) and climate change and do everything they could to leave them behind as quickly as possible.
On the EU, Cameron sounded jingoistic, Brown criticised Cameron’s policies as being “anti-Europeanism” and Clegg talked about being “stronger/safer together and weaker apart.
There was little discernible difference in policies with respect to Afghanistan, and even so, Clegg seemed to more concerned with dealing with the situation facing the country at this time, rather than pointing fingers and apportioning blame. In the end, I don’t feel that anyone particularly won or lost this point.
I didn’t like the way that the question pertaining to the Pope’s visit was handled by Brown, who seemed to have prepared to answer a slightly different question – or perhaps his responses were merely badly oriented. Cameron seemed anxious to avoid the potential minefield in criticising the Vatican’s views on homosexuality too. Clegg, on the other hand, was much more pragmatic on these issues.
Brown seemed primarily apologetic on problems facing the belief of the British electorate in their own political system. Somewhat tainted by the same sense of scandal, Cameron didn’t have much to add. Clegg was much stronger in advocating for the power of the people to be reflected in political process.
On pensions, the contest between what labour is doing and what the Tories intend to do was somewhat overcome by Clegg’s comments of providing for care-givers as well as those in care. Cameron actually tried to hijack this point and incorporate it into his commentary towards the end of this segment.
I particularly liked what Clegg said in terms of the ‘Coalition Government’ question. His calls for MPs and parties to work together sounded genuine – and were not trumped by Brown’s examples of existing organisations (councils, boards, etc), nor by the “Jobs tax” track taken by Cameron.
On immigration, I thought that the “Count them in and count them out” policy seemed under-examined and lacking in credibility, particularly when connected to the “points system”, that, under the terms used during the debate at any rate, seemed somewhat irrelevant and obsolete. Clegg’s direct challenge to Cameron on immigration caps was badly handled by the latter, who was caught like a hedgehog in the headlights when he couldn’t put a number of any kind on the assertion.