The 2010 #leadersdebate series electrified that election campaign. It was a first for a British general election. It made Nick Clegg famous, as Gordon Brown and David Cameron competed to agree with Nick.
Tonight’s debate was very different. There were seven leaders crowding the stage. Refreshingly, three were women: the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon; Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood and the Green Party’s Natalie Bennett. Most of us thought they won the day, with their good manners, willingness to listen and different approach. At one point the men got into a shouting match – showing they care nothing about voter disdain for such hooligan tactics. (Just as they’ve not changed PMQs.) And the three women weren’t English. Diversity in action.
David Cameron was very quiet. Almost invisible. Perhaps that was his tactic. But the format didn’t help him, as he didn’t get the chance to dominate as he may have done against Miliband. (As I blogged recently, he got it badly wrong by demanding this seven way debate.)
Nigel Farage was as awful as we expected. “Is he still going on about immigration? It’s the same old awful record” was the common response. An EU referendum was his answer to everything. (I expect he’d blame Brussels if his car broke down.) His attack on people coming to Britain was as distasteful as it was ill-judged. Nick Clegg put it well: his and Farage’s wife were both born overseas. Why does Farage hate outsiders so much? Let’s hope the British voters are more sensible.
It was good to have a debate with the other parties as well as the Westminster establishment. But we should have had more than one debate. That was Cameron’s choice – deliberately closing down the discussion, in the hope that he’d escape scrutiny. That cynical calculation cannot be allowed unchallenged next time. It’s a shame the broadcasters bottled it and gave in.
PS: it was fun following and joining the debate on Twitter, as in 2010. But politicians, please don’t bother saying how well your guy did. You’re not Nick Robinson. As I responded to George Osbourne:
Great work, Rob, having this out almost before the last words were spoken.