Last night’s debate was a strange event – a leaders’ debate without the prime minster (or that other guy), and with three out of the five parties being specific to certain countries in the UK. Here are three opinions from three of our writers on the debate, getting to grips with issues of performance, policy, and more.
The real loser here was not Ed Miliband, or even Nigel Farage, but David Cameron. No-one on stage had the burden of having to defend a record in UK government, so the attacks on Cameron came from all sides – from Nige on immigration in particular, and from the rest on, well, pretty much everything.
Most of the debate was merely repetition of the tired old phrases from the last, 7-way event – even ‘anti-austerity’ rhetoric seems to have become a worn-out trope – however, I think we can all agree that the most fascinating question was on potential post-election deals.
Miliband’s insistence that he will win a majority is likely to grate with a public that knows that such a win is impossible – my feeling is that people would much rather hear about his plans for working with other parties, so that they know the nature of the government that they might be voting for. Far more revealing was Nigey’s claim that the ONLY thing preventing him from doing a deal with Ed is Labour’s policy of no referendum on the EU – something which will, I’m sure, send shivers down the spine of many a Labour voter, improbable though a Labour-UKIP deal might seem.
Another striking claim in this section of the debate was Nicola Sturgeon’s blistering attack on Ed’s refusal to work with the SNP, saying people would “never forgive” Labour – something I am inclined to agree with. If Ed found himself in the position of being able to lock out Cameron and yet failed to do so, many of Labour’s core voters might turn against him. Although Miliband had a tough message to sell – one of trying to sound like a radical alternative whilst having depressingly mainstream pro-Trident, pro-austerity, anti-immigration policies – he came across as incredibly Prime Ministerial. In Cameron’s absence, he actually became a sort of de facto PM. It was difficult for him, however, to deal with Leanne Woods’ intelligent attacks on Labour’s management of NHS Wales, which has been appalling – not helpful given how central the NHS is to Labour’s manifesto.
In terms of winners, though, for me there can only be one – Natalie Bennett. Although initially clearly nervous, she was the most impassioned of the bunch, and landed a few heavy punches, notably her attack on Labour’s austerity policies. Her piece to camera about coming from an immigrant background was a clever and clearly heartfelt way to relate the discussion to her personal experience. She has been consistently the only person to mention the environment in these debates, which may seem obvious to some (she leads the Green Party, so…), but given that climate change is an issue that threatens all of us, regardless of wealth, social standing or political opinion, it seems odd that no other party leader has chosen to discuss it.
What this debate seemed to do was something rather incredible, it seems it may have killed off Nigel Farage. Anyone who had even the smallest amount of respect for him and his ideas will have been thoroughly turned off. Very few of his comments in the debate were applauded, and many were actually booed, other times there was just a shocked silence. He was aggressive and defensive to the point at which he slagged off the other debaters, the audience and poor old David Dimblebey. He appeared old and tired and in many ways resembled a dinosaur, with out-dated beliefs and polices, that had no place in the debate (which was primarily made of left-wing candidates).
This is an important moment, as I’m certain many people may have lost faith in Farage if they had any in the first place, meaning that his popularity has undoubtedly declined. Questions must now be raised such as what this means for the supposed ‘Blukip’ threat. I’m not just basing these thoughts off the reaction of the apparently ‘left-wing’ audience, on Twitter the response to him was very negative, and the Guardian this morning headlined about Farages’ isolation. This debate may, in the long-term do nothing detrimental to Farage, however, a significant amount of people over the past few months have said things along the lines of “I like the ideas of UKIP, it’s just a few of their MEPs are racist”. This debate may well have turned those people completely away from UKIP due to its new all-time-low in popularity, and whilst this may be a negative thing in terms of the election as they’ll probably vote Tory, in a more idealistic way it’s a good thing, as UKIP may have lost a large chunk what little support it already had, purely as a result of Farages’ questionable debating.
I came to this debate late and I found it extremely compelling. It is a testament to the changed nature of British politics. As with any political debate, most of what the politicians said was unsurprising. The interest lay in the relations between the debaters and their skills as orators.
The relationships in this debate were made particularly interesting due to the absence of Cameron and Clegg. Without the Prime Minister present, the other parties used Miliband as a stand in PM, attacking him for his pro-austerity stance. Miliband, in turn, attempted to use Farage as his fill-in David Cameron (especially during the first part of the debate). He was unable to pursue this because Farage moved quickly to make an idiot of himself. Miliband was left arguing with someone who wasn’t there. Much of Miliband’s campaign has revolved around the idea that the choice is between the Tories and Labour and that he doesn’t need to negotiate with or even acknowledge the other left wing parties.
Miliband was clearly open to attack from the SNP and Plaid as a result of this. Nicola Sturgeon went for it near the end, attacking Miliband’s no coalition policy which she rightly claims could lead to another Tory government if followed through. Both Sturgeon and Wood to simultaneously encourage voters in their own corners of the UK to vote for their parties instead of Labour whilst presenting themselves as good coalition partners for Labour in England. Somewhat surprisingly, they both did rather well. I think that Sturgeon came across best in the debate. She seemed both passionate and practical, and managed to steal many of Ed Miliband’s chances to attack poor old Nigel, which earned her support within the audience.
In spite of the awkward position Miliband found himself, he didn’t come across badly. His role as replacement PM feeds the idea that he would be a good Prime Minister, although it did also make him seem a little dull (as many leading politicians are). I’m going to disagree with my friends and say that I don’t think that Bennett did very well. She made good points, but her party represents good points, so what mattered was her debating. She missed opportunities to be assertive. Having said that, her speech on immigration was a highlight of the whole debate.
Finally, some more general comments. It is great to see that three out of five debaters were women. Perhaps things are looking up in that department. It is interesting to note that Welsh and Scottish nationalism is represented by the left wing, while English nationalism (I’m talking about UKIP here) is represented by the right. Also, since the Welsh and Scottish parties were present, where is the DUP? The apparent irrelevance of Northern Ireland is just one of many issues of nationality in the UK. We at The Great and the Good will be discussing these shortly.
So, another round of debates. And what a different show, what with Cameron and Clegg playing truant!
The first thing that needs to be tackled though were the people who were there – firstly Miliband.
Partly due to his sterling closing statement, Miliband came out of the whole sorry affair looking like the future PM, but his overall message was dwarfed by the anti-austerity parties, who certainly won the night, and though he gave a robust defence against Farage, one line of attack he could’ve emphasised more were the dangers of fiscal autonomy – yes, he mentioned it once, but it’s a key argument in debunking the SNP’s apparent devotion to anti austerity economics.
Speaking of which, there was a strong showing from the anti-austerity parties – Wood once again put in a firm attack against Farage, though seemed like she had her head in the cloud at points – her rather bizarre attack on Miliband over Trident being an example of this – while Bennett, though mostly far better than she was in the seven way debate, did have a rather odd screaming attack at one point.
The star of the anti-austerity club, Sturgeon, in my mind actually gave a lesser performance than Bennett in this debate – if we ignore the screaming. Though she presented her arguments well, all her passion had seemingly transferred to Bennett, who truly shined, particularly in her heartfelt speech on immigration.
So what about Farage? Well, the less said, the better. The unfortunate thing is, I don’t see this debate at all harming him (or boosting him either in fairness). His voters will lap up his accusations of bias (which were well rebuked by Dimbleby) and his scare mongering, while on the other hand his dreadful performance won’t actually win anyone over.
But the real question of the night was the location of the Dave (oh, and that lackey who hangs around with him). Why can’t he stand up to the British people and defend his (in fairness atrocious) record? Was he scared? Or was the reason really rather different…?
Meanwhile, in a dank basement somewhere near Chipping Norton…
David Cameron woke up – his head was pounding, his vision clouded, his nostrils swamped with the combined smells of piss and alcohol. He looked over, and sure enough, lying next to him was his manservant. His manservant? Was that right? No, his – his something, you know – that one. The whiney one. Quite apologetic.
He clumsily fumbled around for his phone. Something important or other had happened – he was sure of it – one of those things with all the lefties. He unlocked it and looked at the notifications. He breathed a heavy sigh.