2010 UK Election, Omar Salahuddin, View by election

Salahuddin: Clegg wins third UK leaders’ debate

Judge: Omar Salahuddin

Winner: Nick Clegg

Scores: Clegg 81 | Cameron 80 | Brown 77

Being the last debate in a series of three, it was important that the ‘degree of separation’ (distinction between policies on the same issues) was distinct and unequivocal. In this respect, I felt that the debate was much closer than hitherto and the necessary separation something of an opportunity that all three candidates seemed less well-able to grasp. In this, Clegg seemed to be the braver of the three, tactfully admitting that there were “no guarantees” and conceding that austerity measures that might not be so acceptable to all would be necessary to rectify the chaos (in immigration, banking, etc) that was the legacy of previous government drawn from the two major parties (Labour and Conservative).

This debate was also much closer than the previous one, perhaps as the direct result of an apparent lack of desire in all three speakers to really grasp the nettle of an economic situation that is still, by any of the usual measuring devices, a long way from real health.

Dynamically, both Brown and Cameron seemed content in the first phase of the debate to continue sniping at each other and scorning each other’s policies; something that seems tactically quite strange, given the fact that Clegg (on this adjudicator’s card, at any rate) has been rated highest of the three before this. Indeed, Brown sought to focus so much attention on how bad the Tory’s past record was and how so many of their stated policies would not answer the needs of the time that he often drew a veil over ways in which his own policies might fill that void (e.g. Banking management, a pension-earnings link, etc). Brown had other problems too. He seemed to start many of his contributions with an effort to ‘personalise’ the issue by making it relevant through references to things like, “You remember your teacher,” and “I feel passionate about (…education) without developing a link between this and the point he was trying to make. As such, many of these comments lacked the necessary incisiveness and sense of import. Brown seemed unnecessarily aggressive and inclined to be dogged. He also spent far too much time shaking his head in a negative fashion (Cameron slightly less so and Clegg hardly at all).

Cameron, on the other hand, seemed hell-bent on falling into exactly the same moorland bogs that he did the last time: once more unable to put a number into the frame on immigration caps, and once more talking about rewarding those who work faithfully and pay their dues without saying really how that reward would be extant, unless one was already in the top 10% of earners in the country. Admittedly, Brown seemed better prepared to side with Clegg on the ‘immigration cap’ point, and made the useful extension that most immigrants were from Europe in any case and would not be affected by a cap mechanism. Cameron was also the most guilty of the three in terms of his inability to distance himself from past policies, although he artfully avoided self-mutilation on the EU. However, for me, he was unable to show how taxation under a Conservative government would solve existing problems, and his approach to issues in the banking sector (bonuses and the like) lacked the necessary conviction.

Clegg started a little slowly, but warmed to questions and those who posed them on a much more emotively connected level. His references to his own children and their schooling rather spiked Cameron’s efforts to do the same on the education issue – and he distinguished himself by advancing the idea that he would split up the banks (the ‘investment banks’ from the ‘high street banks’) in an effort to ensure that such a crisis should not occur again. Brown’s response on the same issue was to say what he’d “…like to see,” happening, without ever actually sharing that vision with the audience.

The speakers’ closing comments were interesting too, in the way in which they took their focus, more than anything else. Cameron basically said that change was a good thing (probably not going to get too much opposition to that kind of statement!) and that it could only come about as the result of a Conservative government. Brown basically said that the Conservatives would not be able to deliver – and Clegg admitted that there were no guarantees under a potential Liberal/Social Democrat government and that people would be taking a gamble; but taking a gamble on something new, rather than a repeat of the mistakes of the past.

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