My old mate Bruce Grocott, Tony Blair’s parliamentary aide and a top top man, once said that if he and I ever wrote a book, we should call it ‘why I was right all along.’ It was a variation on the theme of ‘they’re all mad apart from you and me and even you are a little mad.’
In the end I went for ‘The Blair Years’ and Bruce has yet to pen one. But I did think of his title, I must confess, as I climbed into bed around 3am after getting back from the leaders’ debate in Manchester. I was right Nick Clegg and GB would do well, and right that David Cameron would be less good at answers than questions, less good at sustained argument than slick pre-prepared soundbites for the news bulletins.
Not that this took genius level political interpretative skills. It was blindingly obvious Nick Clegg would do well. It is so tough for a third party leader, whose main public appearances are when he gets a third of the questions David Cameron gets at PMQs, and during both of which he is ritually shouted at by all sides.
So first, that has forced him to hone his vocal and comms skills and both were put to good effect last night. But the very fact of seeming to be a new and fresh face on the post-expenses scandal landscape was great news for him. Also, being the third party leader allows him to say pretty much anything he wants, because nobody really thinks he will become Prime Minister. I hadn’t realised he was promising 17 billion quid’s worth of tax cuts. Wow. And totally undeliverable.
He has yet to be put under the kind of scrutiny the Leader of the Opposition gets (albeit in Cameron’s case of a tame nature) let alone the 24 hour intense scrutiny applied to the Government. A bit of it will now come. But I will admit he did very well on a big night for him.
What was great about last night – apart from the fact that Cameron was exposed as the lightweight that he is – was that it shook up the election landscape. From the whole media – not to mention the whole of the Tory Party – thinking Cameron was home and dry, they now have real doubts. That is because they now see the public have doubts.
I assume he is still the favourite. But GB is still in the game, and Clegg’s performance has shaken up the whole debate in a way that makes the next three weeks more interesting.
I hope the media now start to understand that the debate really should be about policy and issues, as per the debate, and not the process and trivia that still tends to dominate a lot of the broadcast coverage. All three of the parties’ policies now have to be put to sustained and serious scrutiny. I certainly hope that happens. Because if it does, I believe that will be to Labour’s advantage.
** Buy The Blair Years online and raise cash for Labour http://www.alastaircampbell.org/bookshop.php.