The Big British Debate
The Scotsman, April 16th 2010
It was history in the making supposedly. Whatever it was, politics will never be the same again – for good and bad.
Gordon Brown showed himself as a master of facts – endless facts and numerous percentage figures about public services delivering and improving. He took half an hour before he mentioned a single human being and that was his father who only got a passing mention.
David Cameron told a host of stories inhabited by individuals and their stories, of being victims of crime, of being an immigrant into the country, or of going to a drug rehab. Clegg seemed a little unsure at first, regularly and obviously looking at his notes, but slowly beginning to find his footing.
Cameron had the advantage and Brown the disadvantage of the first two subjects with the discussion concerning immigration and law and order, difficult issues for Labour. Next up was the expenses scandal and David Cameron scored a powerful point by making a point about Brown trying to agree with Clegg, and Clegg indicating he disagreed with Brown by physically standing back.
The questions came on education, health and the economy, Cameron mentioned Labour’s ‘Job Tax’ and Brown invited voters to ‘not risk the recovery’. Clegg commented that there were ‘big things which we cannot afford to do’ such as Trident and slammed the lack of honesty of the two big parties.
Then came support to our soldiers in Afghanistan. The concluding remarks saw Clegg declare again that ‘there is an alternative’ and mention ‘the two old parties’ and their failures at least three times. Brown welcomed ‘the exchange of ideas’, observing that this was not ‘The X Factor’ or ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. Cameron acknowledged ‘the repeated attempts made to frighten you about a Conservative Government’, a reference to Gordon Brown’s numerous remarks during the evening.
This was an evening in which Nick Clegg won by being there, David Cameron did well by not blowing it, and Gordon Brown did not manage to gain the ground he needed to and thus lost. It may turn out to be that the Prime Ministerial Debates become the one historic innovation for which Gordon Brown PM is remembered.