As it was not the first, perhaps last night’s TV debate was not as exciting as the one last week, but it was nonetheless an enjoyable and illuminating ninety minutes.
In the so-called spin room afterwards, as I declared GB the winner, Channel 4’s highly intelligent political editor Gary Gibbon asked me whether, had I thought GB had been a clear loser, I would have said so. Fair point.
However, he most certainly was not. The question being asked last night was which of the three leaders is best equipped to meet the myriad foreign policy challenges on a Prime Minister’s desk. And I really felt that the answer was Gordon.
His opening statement was the best of the three. It took on the fact that some people really don’t like him, and that he lacks the PR skills and style of David Cameron and Nick Clegg. But I felt he showed a greater understanding of the threats and opportunities posed by the world of change, and that he commanded the entirety of the foreign policy debate.
The second half felt a bit same old, too much like last week, but interestingly I felt GB more than matched DC for energy, which is supposed to be his thing.
Clegg did ok, but the novelty factor has worn off and he was less compelling. More importantly, he has serious policy problems in areas like Trident and immigration and these will come under more scrutiny from now on.
Gary Gibbon, Andrew Gimson of the Telegraph (who really hates the way the debates are dominating the campaign, saying it is a “ludicrous” way to choose a PM) and I had a middle-aged fart type chat about our desire for the election to be much more focused on policy. We recalled the time when manifestos were launched and then for the rest of the campaign each of the parties did a policy area per day and the media covered it. Gary admitted that if Labour put out a press notice calling the media to a housing policy launch, turnout might be low.
But surely the debate has to turn to policy at some point. In one of the thousands of interviews Sky did yesterday to promote ‘their’ debate, Kay Burley told me that ‘body language’ is the key. No it is not, I said. It is all about policy.
I said after the Clegg surge last week that I hoped it would lead to all three parties coming under real scrutiny on policy. It hasn’t really happened. Partly that is the fault of the media obsession with debate process, polls, and themselves, a trend continuing this morning. But also the parties have to up their game in engaging the electorate on policy. It is where Labour is strongest – so we have to do it most.
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