TV Debate: Gut feelings….
So, the first live TV debate is over. My first thought is that the debate was itself was much more substantial than Prime Ministers Questions. It got off to a bad start with the ITV intro making it sound like a boxing match but after that things got better and there was some real, substantive debate. The first two questions were hair-raising with crime and immigration dominating. Nick Clegg, in a weak defence of his plans to confine immigrants to different regions, uttered some truly shameful things which were popularist and tub-thumping. Gordon Brown rightly, took him to task for doing a poor impression of David Cameron.
Clegg went from bad to worse; talking about ‘colleges of crime’. However, all three leaders were at this point trying to outdo each other in the bid to sound more hairshirted. It rapidly became clear that Cameron was tanking but on the economy Brown was frankly, too cute and cuddly with the Liberal Democrats. This is a danger in an election. Brown may well be right to make overtures towards Liberal Democrats but, and this is a big but, in an election we are fighting for votes for our own tribe and Clegg never held back on Brown. Post-election schmoozing and consensus building may well be the order of the day but that is for the *post election* period and not now.
Brown failed to nail Clegg on the deficit and the economy, preferring to take-on the Conservatives. Again, this is a mistake. Weakness at this moment will encourage flakiness and possible protest votes and possible lost seats; bizarrely, Clegg stumbled on the expenses question with Brown seizing the indicative spelling out of policy first before Clegg. In a reversal, Brown failed to mention inheritance tax before Clegg. This is a knife-edge election…..a tactical softness could cost votes and seats. Brown did much better than Cameron, much better than expected, and that was a good result; however, there is a problem here…..if Labour doesn’t recognise it could cost dear.
Cameron collapsed. Alistair Campbell speaking afterwards was right that Cameron’s lack of substance was exposed badly. Who won? Score draw between Brown and Clegg.