Will Heaven at The Telegraph liveblogs:
9.42pm (WH) Onto health, but still the pace is bothering me. The American Presidential debates are an opportunity for US politicians to look, well, presidential. But do any of ours look electable? It’s scatter-gun with notes.
9.40pm (WH) Cameron sounding positively Churchillian defending Trident.
9.39pm (RC) A dose of relative calm when talk turns to the military: mood more sober and serious. Brown comes off well, as can talk with gravitas about the tough decisions he’s had to make as PM.
9.37pm Neil Midgley tweets: “Another ITV fail – blocking line of sight from leaders to audience with cameras.” Meanwhile, Iain Dale says: “Brown’s lipstick is running. Or becoming more and more orange.”
9.34pm Damian Thompson writes:
We’ve got to remove this dark cloud on this economy by acting now, says Cameron. He makes it sound like a minor operation: an appendectomy rather than a quadruple bypass. Brown goes on to imply that if you act now the patient will die. Clegg: tax the banks, “but let’s not get obsessed about mythical savings on waste” or pretend that it’s all down to timing. Probably sounds grown-up to younger people in the audience; to anyone with experience of election tactics, it’s textbook Liberal Democrat opportunism. The idea that control-freak Lib Dems would be prepared to tackle even the silliest quangos is absurd. This is a party that can’t see a dog turd on the pavement without wanting to set up a committee to discuss “options” for cleaning it up.
9.33pm Janet Daley asks:
Why is DC allowing GB to say that Tories would be “taking £6 billion out of the economy”? Raising taxes takes money out of the economy, cutting them puts money back into the real economy.
9.31pm (WH) Alastair Campbell tweets: “The longer it goes on the more shallow Cameron looks and the more substantial Gordon looks. Clegg doing well as I knew he would.” A reluctant admission?
9.29pm (RC) “The only way we’ve kept our economy moving is because the Government stepped in to ensure there were sufficient levels of growth,” says Gordon. Um… didn’t it contract quite significantly?
9.28pm Ed West notes: Cameron used the phrase “jobs tax” about half a dozen times in 120 seconds.
9.27pm James Delingpole asks:
Clegg now TOTALLY overdoing the engagement with the questioner thing. “Where are you Robert?” he asks. Robert, sitting at the back, looks deeply embarrassed. It’s like when Jeffrey Archer overdoes the repeating-your-name-to-show-you-he-remembers-it-and-cares trick. You’d really rather he didn’t. It’s so not English.
9.26pm (RC) Cameron talks about ‘removing’ the deficit, glossing over the fact that this will involve a profound restructuring of our economy and public sector. Brown repeats standard line about big choices and securing the recovery – referring to the Tories’ NI policy as “taking money out of the economy”, which is a bizarre interpretation by any standards. Clegg doing well – mastered his brief, and can refer to Lib Dems’ shiny policies without the others having time to knock them down.
9.24pm Krishnan Guru-Murthy tweets: “Suspect Cameron will regret having the centre position – it isn’t helping him. Clegg acting as though he was in middle anyway.”
9.22pm Bryony Gordon sends us her thoughts:
Please stop banging on about all the real people you have met. Clegg, stop waving your hands about – you look like you want to throttle Stewart. Oh, and was the set stolen from a kilroy silk show from the early 90s?
9.21pm Damian Thompson notes:
This might seem like a trivial point, but it isn’t. Dave’s makeup has been severely botched. I’ve seen less slap on the faces of a Gilbert and Sullivan troupe in Reading. Not only that, but someone has attempted to darken his eyebrows; someone in a hurry, by the looks of it. The Leader of the Opposition is (I think) putting in a confident performance, but he is orange. And some idiot on his staff has said: that looks fine.
9.19pm Harry Mount writes:
The debate is only really coming alive in the press room here in Manchester when one of them gets angry. A groan goes up the moment they try to squeeze in a much-rehearsed soundbite (”You can’t airbrush your policies, David, the way you airbrush your posters”) or furiously use the questioner’s first name (”Yes, Jacqueline,” says Nick; “Yes, Helen,” says Dave).
9.17pm (RC) Further to last post, think problem is lack of applause. People in press room are referring to particular answers getting nods from the crowd – especially Cameron and Clegg talking about personal experiences with education – but there’s no audible cue that tells you how well things went down.
9.15pm (RC) After a long debate about how to clean up politics – which Nick Clegg managed to focus on a pledge of his own party’s – the abiding impression is that the format is leading each leader to cancel the others out somewhat. The result – which seems to be confirmed by commentary so far – is that people aren’t having their minds changed, but their existing instincts confirmed. Interventions by moderator also make the leaders seem like naughty schoolboys, which doesn’t help them appear statesmanlike.
Andrew Sullivan’s live-blog:
4.08 pm Just an anthropological point: Cameron just tried to sum up what they all agree on. It was a classic Alpha Male move. I give him a Beta-plus. Brown so far is combative and smiling his grisly smile constantly. Clegg comes across as a bit of a whiner – which is always the trap for the third party. But he’s very effective and telegenic. No question that Clegg and Cameron seem of a different and younger generation. But you can see why nervous voters might find the older bloke a little more reassuring in a pinch.
But if Cameron is trying to prove he is of prime ministerial caliber, he’s succeeding. The policy differences are, so far, numbingly small.
4.06 pm Brown’s raising the question of hereditary peers in the House of Lords is classic class-baiting Cameron.
4.02 pm. Cameron wants to streamline government – and cut the number of MPs – to reduce the fiddling of parliamentary expense accounts? Shurely shome mishtake. Meanwhile, Brown keeps sucking up to the Lib Dems. A hint of the possibility of a Lib-Lab pact? Cameron fights back with a quite effective parry on the tardiness of Labour’s interest in constitutional reform. If they wanted to get rid of hereditary peers, they could have done so in the last 13 years.
4.00 pm. Brown says he was “shocked and sickened” by the expenses scandal among members of parliament. He wants recalls of dodgy MPs. He wants an elected House of Lords.
3.58 pm. Brown is getting very aggressive. He keeps interrupting Cameron. Now there’s a jibe about air-brushing. It doesn’t seem that fitting for a prime minister. It seems a little insidery. But without imbibing the current atmosphere in Britain lately, it’s hard for me to judge how this strategy will go down with the viewers.
3.55 pm. Brown tries to get a rehearsed joke about Tory posters. But he’s the first to start bickering and talking about the meta-issues. Another Brown rehearsed line: “This is not Question Time, David. This is Answer Time.” Good line. Badly delivered. But Cameron ducks the question on funding of the police.
3.54 pm. Brown offers legal injunctions against the police if a case lags. He’s implying that Tory budget cuts could reduce the number of cops on the street. Clegg just keeps repeating that nothing seems to change as the two parties alternate in power.
3.50 pm On crime, more police on the streets seems a common refrain. Cameron wants to get drug addicts off the streets and into rehab. Rehab as an anti-crime measure is unimaginable in an American context. And from the right?
3.48 pm. Cameron touts welfare reform as a cure for immigration excesses. Now he’s talking about tougher sentences for burglars and murderers. Not exactly hugging hoodies, is it?
3.44 pm They’re all vying to get immigration “under control”. Brown rather awkwardly says it already is under control. But he suffers the plight of incumbency. If they’ve been in office for the past 13 years, it’s a little late to get tough. Clegg keeps banging on about regional caps for immigrants – not a national one.
3.39 pm Cameron’s hair is much more presidential. And his first immigration answer – a clear vow to reduce immigration levels – seems clearer than Brown’s obviously scripted description of his meeting with chefs. Yes, chefs.
Iain Martin’s live blog at WSJ
Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:
The format: FAST! If anything, I think U.S. networks could learn from ITV’s presentation of the debate, which kept statements short, questions direct and substantive, and a moderator who was willing to cut off the candidates when they started to ramble or repeat themselves.
That being said, all three candidates seemed to be rushing to get as much information as possible, and I suspect that many voters probably had a hard time following the discussion at times. At times, they seemed to be struggling to present their entire platform when a few bullet points would have sufficed.
Gordon Brown: Not surprisingly, the dour prime minister seemed the most ill-at-ease with the debate concept, often getting bogged down in unnecessary detail and becoming tetchy in response to criticism. It’s hard to say after watching the debate what Brown’s pitch is, other than it’s way too dangerous to elect David Cameron. In particular, challenging the premise of a question by a soldier complaining about inadequate equipment for troops in Afghanistan seemed like a mistake. Brown was strongest on the economic questions where he seemed to effectively paint Cameron’s proposals as vague.
David Cameron: Not surprisingly, the younger more dynamic Cameron seemed much more comfortable with the format and his “hope over fear” closing statement was strong (though the constant invocations of “hope” and “change” bordered on hopejacking). Cameron dominated the early questions on immigration and law-and-order issues, though he seemed to get seriously outwonked by both Brown and Clegg on pocketbook issues. He didn’t do a whole lot to dispel his image as a smooth-talking policy lightweight.
Nick Clegg: Meh. The third-party candidate scored a few hits, but had a hard time distinguishing his political positions from Brown’s or his anti-establishment bona fides from Cameron. The anti-nuclear rhetoric he broke out on the defense question seemed both unrealistic and a bit of a non sequitur. It is telling how many times both Cameron and Brown began their answers with “I agree with Nick,” though.
Overall winner: Cameron, though given how much the format favored the conservative, it wasn’t exactly a knockout punch.
Janet Daily at The Telegraph:
No great surprises then. Gordon Brown was the most negative of the three, using much of his allotted time to attack David Cameron. He was also boorish, interrupting Cameron and even talking over the chairman. He made a gratuitously nasty reference to Cameron having “airbrushed” his own poster, and a quite irrelevant jibe about Lord Ashcroft. He claimed repeatedly that problems such as immigration and crime were already under control, but then said that his party was planning to deal with them. He was, as usual, repetitive and obsessive in his insistence on “spending” as his trump card.
David Cameron did very well without adding anything especially startling or novel to the debate. What came across was clarity, authenticity and an appropriately authoritative manner for a potential prime minister. I thought he missed a precious opportunity to slap down Brown’s absurd assertion that the Tories would be “taking six billion pounds out of the economy” by not implementing most of the Labour National Insurance rise when, in fact, it is raising tax that takes money out of the real economy. But Cameron did make the most of the disastrous effect that the NIC rise would have on the NHS and education budgets.
Nick Clegg was assiduously courted by the Prime Minister: I lost count of how many times Brown said, “I agree with Nick”. Clegg began with platitudes but livened up later as he got into his predictable condemnations of the “two old parties”. (Could somebody please tell him that the Liberals are a much older party than Labour?) It will take a pretty sophisticated viewer to appreciate that the LibDems have an absurdly unfair advantage in being able to offer an utterly unrealistic programme. Clegg could attack both the real alternatives without worrying about the credibility of his own policies. So it is scarcely surprising that he “won” most of the instant polls. My guess is that this will make scarcely any difference to the outcome of the election except to confirm that Brown is a dead man walking.
Gideon Rachman at Financial Times:
Was this the night when the Conservative Party saw the chance of an overall majority slip away, ensuring that Britain is heading for a hung parliament? My impressions of the first ever leaders’ debate seems to be the same as that of the great British public. Nick Clegg won.
Snap polls after the debate showed the Lib Dem leader as the clear victor. More significantly, the first poll of post-debate voting intentions that I’ve seen – just broadcast on Sky News – showed a big jump in those saying that they intend to vote for the Lib Dems. They went up from 19% in the polls to 26%, just behind Labour. Of course, there are still three weeks and two debates to go. But, if that trend holds, we’re definitely going to end up with a hung parliament – with the Lib Dems holding the balance of power.
So what went right for Clegg? As I wrote on my blog a few days ago, I’ve long been slightly puzzled about why the charm and quickness that I’ve seen from Clegg in private has never really translated into his public image as leader. Tonight that changed. I think the format favoured Clegg. Or rather Question Time in parliament which, up until now, has been the only opportunity he has had to go head-to-head with the other leaders, does the Lib Dem leader no favours. He is just no good at the shouted put-downs that are the essence of Question Time and is also shoved off to one side of the chamber, away from the two main leaders, which marginalises him. Tonight he debated Cameron and Brown on equal terms – and in a format that favoured warmth and under-stated humour, rather than raw aggression and one-liners. It worked much better for him.
Clegg’s main tactic was obvious but effective. He portrayed the two other leaders as representatives of an exhausted system, and went some way to capturing the crucial banner as the “change” candidate. He was also effective in giving the impression that he alone was being honest about the fiscal dilemmas that Britain is going to face. His attack on David Cameron for suggesting that fiscal problems can be solved by cutting “waste” was skilful. Of course, there were also contradictions in Clegg’s presentation. On the one hand, he argued that “cutting waste” is largely an irrelevance – and then he reeled off a list of wasteful projects that needed to be cut. But apparently it didn’t matter.
Fraser Nelson at The Spectator:
None of them dropped any clangers – nor did anyone have killer one-liners. I’m struggling to recall a single line from the debate. Cameron scored when he thanked the soldier and the nurse for their service: he relied on anecdotes, whereas Brown emptied his statistics on the poor viewer. I can’t deny that Clegg’s answers were stronger than I expected, and those who had never heard of him may well have been impressed. From the offset, it was said that Clegg had most to gain from these debates. So it was to prove.
Clegg gorged on the plague-on-both-your-houses lines, pitching desperately for the anti-politics vote. “All I would appeal for is a bit of honesty in this debate” and “The more they argue, the more they sound like each other.” Etc.
Only a few exchanges jumped out at me. The first was the military. Brown starts, as he always does when talking about the military, with a garbled sentence “Let me say, first of all, my pride and my admiration for the Armed Forces.” Brown can never speak in grammatically correct sentences when talking about the military (sending “best wishes” to the deceased, etc) because he does not understand the military. “Every Urgent Operational Requirement that our Armed Forces have asked us for has been met,” drones Brown. Then says how terrorist plots start “in that region” (that’s his way of saying “Pakistan”). Cameron’s response, when it came, was far more subdued. He should have said it was a scandal that soldiers died in Belfast-era Range Rovers etc – there are enough examples to go through. Instead, he mentioned a policy area. Cameron was evidently told not to go after Brown in this way, not to be too Flashman (to use Alan Johnson’s analogy). A shame, in my view. I could have seen far more raw anger from Cameron, because he does feel it.
Cameron was at his most convincing when speaking directly to the nurse. “Can I thank you for your incredible service to the NHS. What it did for my family and my son, I will never forget. The dedication, the love. Thank you for all that you have done.” This left statistics-spouting Brown in the shade. And on the economy, he beat Brown by dismissing his (ridiculous) claim that £6bn of cuts posed some mortal danger to the economy. All he’s doing is proposing is to cut 1 percent of government spending: what family has not had to cut their budget by at least as much? The answer, he said, is to cut the waste and cut the tax.
I was once given a George W. Bush doll which, if you pressed a button on his lapel, would recite one of his soundbites. At times, this is what this debate felt like. At every given topic, the leaders recited their given answers. People have heard Brown’s repertoire, they’ve heard Cameron’s. But not Clegg’s. He enjoyed the novelty factor. I hope he enjoys it: tonight may very well be the high point of his political career.
On immigration and crime all three men tried to out-populist one another. Who knew that foreign students were such a threat to this green and pleasant land? Who knew that foreign chefs could possibly be such a danger? When Nick Clegg recounted an anecdote about how a poor chap had been burgled while at his father’s funeral one half-expected him to add that, “And by the way, the father was murdered by a cleaver-wielding Vietnamese chef…”
True, David Cameron was right to stress the importance of rehabilitation and, later, of welfare reform. But these were small nuggets of decency and common-sense in a swamp of hysteria and lie-telling populism that was enough to make one think that my three-year old niece’s analysis was depressingly accurate.
Things did, mercifully, get a little better thereafter and there was more give and take and general spikiness than seemed likely given the absurdly stringent nature of the “rules”. It was both more interesting and even more exasperating than one expected.
Nick Clegg clearly won and not just on the basis of the Expectations Game either. He was personable, effective and pretty good at putting across his entirely reasonable “Plague on Both Your Houses” stance.
On the plus side for David Cameron his opening statement was the sharpest, clearest and best, noting and appreciating the public’s mood. His closing statement was fine too but for long periods of the contest Cameron seemed oddly passive and, at times, strangely shut out of the contest. My impression was that he was the most nervous of the participants but, of course, I may be mistaken.
More culpably, time and time again Cameron declined to call Brown out. Perhaps he didn’t want to seem angry or aggressive but it was absurd for him to fail to challenge Brown’s repeated assertions that raising taxes by £6bn fewer pounds somehow constitutes “taking money out of the economy”. If it’s not paid in tax then does this money simply evaporate? Cameron never made this argument. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher would have. Instead Dave became bogged down in tedious details about waste and 1% of government revenue. A real missed opportunity.
And that’s rather how I feel the whole night was for Cameron. He could have slain Brown tonight but he did not. The result of that failure was to let Brown escape.
Martin Bright at The Spectator:
Shall we stop being cynical for a moment and congratulate Brown, Cameron and Clegg for being the first political leaders in Britain to take part in a televised election debate? Indeed, we should particularly congratulate Gordon Brown for agreeing to this. He had by far the most to lose.
There is absolutely no doubt that Nick Clegg won this. He faltered from time to time, but was the only one confident enough to take thoughtful (if sometimes stagey) pauses.
I thought Gordon Brown also did surprisingly well. He kept his cool and showed that he is an accomplished debater. His jokes were over-prepared and characteristically dreadful, but he warmed up through the 90 minutes and challenged Cameron very effectively on several occasions, especially over police spending.
Cameron was disappointing, but people forget that he was not entirely convincing against David Davis in the Tory leadership debates.
Gordon Brown should be worried precisely because he did relatively well in the debate. For some reason this doesn’t appear to have made any impact on the way people thought about him.