16 April 2010

TV leaders’ debate: The three leaders and a fourth man

Alongside the funerals of Churchill and Diana, Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon, the fall of the Berlin Wall and Nelson Mandela’s walk to freedom, the first TV leaders’ debate will join the watershed moments of television history.  It is the defining moment of the campaign.

The silly worm and the meaningless instantaneous polling should be dismissed.  The weekend polls will be the ones to be taken seriously.

The debate itself wasn't stilted.  The leaders did engage and the audience behaved itself.  Everybody involved is on a steep learning curve.  It will interesting to see if any of the 76 rules are modified for debates two and three.

Due to Nick Clegg’s impressive performance, the dynamics of the campaign have changed.  Whether he can build on this remains to be seen.  Labour’s hope is that the Lib Dems will now take votes from the Tories, which will make it increasingly difficult for them to achieve an overall majority.

Gordon Brown, as the underdog, entered the debate with nothing to lose.  Nobody expected him to perform well, but apart from rattling off too many statistics, he passed the test.  He will be more confident as a result of his performance and, just maybe, that part of his personality that we never see will finally come through during the debates to come.

The strategy that the Tories adopted has to questioned.  Their priority for this debate should have been to inflict a fatal blow to Gordon Brown.  It didn't happen.  Cameron was effective on the NHS and crime, but the natural media performer didn't cut through as he should have done.

All the parties will need to take stock and tweak their strategies over the weekend.  The Tories have already played, with the exception of a petrol price wheeze, most of their cards but the ‘underdogs’ have not.  The Labour campaign, which has been dull and their media operation poor, can only improve.  What does Peter Mandelson have up his sleeve for the weeks ahead?

The reaction of the electorate will be a key factor to the future direction of the campaign.  But the two further debates will now dominate along with the polls.  And, of course, there are still the ‘unknown unknowns’ to pop up.

Following last night’s debate the result of this election is still wide open.  The safe bet has to be that Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, will have a significant role to play once the polls close.

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