The Second Big Debate

Gerry Hassan

The Scotsman, April 23rd 2010

The dynamics this week were very different: Clegg, the new favourite, Cameron, the previous frontrunner, and Brown, the supposed steady incumbent.

Nick Clegg had to navigate difficult terrain between being an ‘outsider’ and emphasising his experience, including drawing on his work for EU Commissioner Leon Brittan. When we got to Afghanistan and nuclear weapons, the temperature changed, and Brown told Clegg to ‘get real’ and Cameron said ‘I agree with Gordon’.

Brown was better than the previous week, avoiding mentioning no percentages or three point plans, and even cited the occasional human being. Cameron challenged Brown to withdraw ‘Labour lies’ in its leaflets alleging that the Tories would take away free bus passes from pensioners.

When a voter asked the three leaders about doubting ‘the power of my vote’ after the expenses scandal, Clegg responded by saying ‘you are the boss’, while Cameron talked of ‘anger’ and Brown got lost in detail.

Brown concluded by talking of ‘the responsibility of the job’, Cameron, the ‘desperation’ and ‘fear’ invoked by Labour, leaving Clegg to make his peroration that ‘something exciting is happening’ and ‘that we can try something different’. This was a powerful closing, but JFK or Obama it wasn’t, and overall all three can take something from this.

The battle is still about ‘change’, but neither Cameron nor Clegg can yet feel confident that they have claimed the mantle; it is one Brown has little hope of.