Friday, 16 April 2010

Leaders' Debate at the Vearts'

Being a political junkie, sometimes to the annoyance of the rest of the family, there was some tussling over the television remote last night.  Kitchen duties meant that I kicked off listening to the leaders’ debate on Radio Four.  As soon as that dishwasher was loaded though, I wrestled control of the zapper from my daughter’s clutches and the image of Simon Cowell was replaced by the contest from Manchester.  Within a few minutes however, the usual chatter had died down, my daughter had curled up next to me on the sofa and was gazing intently at the screen.

I looked down at her. “You ought to go to bed.”
“I want to watch this.”
“Oh come on, you are just saying that.”
“No, I’m not!” she objected.  “It’s interesting.  It’s not like parliament when they are all shouting.  It’s just the three of them; I can hear what they are saying and I can understand what they are telling me.”

To be fair to her, she did quite well before sleepiness overcame her attention.  It was only with the entry of her mother that she was finally chased up stairs to bed.  Sadly because of that I missed the part where Trident was being discussed but Mrs Veart was able to fill me in on what was said.

Mrs Veart is nobody's fool, least of all mine.  Therefore as a floating voter I asked her after the end what her opinion was.  Gordon Brown she described as “solid”.  He knew his facts and was able to deliver them.  But then again, she mused, he ought to.  If a Prime Minister doesn’t know his stuff with the entire apparatus of government at his disposal, he wouldn’t be doing his job.  David Cameron was dismissed immediately as a “lightweight”.  What really provoked that damning comment was his approach on the NHS.  One does not answer the question by eulogising nurses and doctors continuously.  Also Dave’s threatening China with nuclear weapons did not go down well.

Nick Clegg however did impress.  He did answer the questions and engage the audience, both at home and in the studio.  He was relaxed and confident.  It was not perfect though.   The repetition of points did not go down too well as it looked like he didn’t want to (or couldn’t) enlarge on the subjects.  Although in Mrs Veart’s verdict, Nick was the clear overall winner on the evening, I had to ask the killer questions:

“Who will you vote for in the election?”

“Liberal Democrats, probably.”

“Why only probably?”

“I don’t feel that Clegg is ready for being Prime Minister yet.  Brown obviously is more experienced.  But then, he is the one who is responsible for a large part of the mess.  And Labour is squeezing us so hard in the NHS.  There is hardly any time to draw breath before it is on to the next task.  Cameron is just scary.  No way will I ever be voting Conservative. 

“With Clegg, nobody comes out of the blue like he has done tonight and becomes Prime Minister.  It just doesn’t happen, unless one is really exceptional and nobody on that stage was tonight.  Not even Barack Obama did that.  But give him another four or five years and I am sure that Nick will make a good Prime Minister.”

I think what happened in my own living room last night was potentially a microcosm for the entire country.  On the narrower political point, Nick Clegg surprised both the public and commentators.  His openness and honesty impressed people.  The people of Britain have finally been able to see him and like what they saw.  That is not the same as wanting him transported straight to No.10.  It is an excellent start but, nonetheless, still only a start.  To my fellow activists, enjoy the glow and make the most of it.  Warm feelings sadly do not last for long.

What is perhaps more important however is the wider political impact.  The leaders’ debate was a lot more interesting and engaging to the broader public than anybody had hoped for.  Viewing figures were almost 10 million.  Expect this number to rise for the next debate as the word spreads that this is the chance to really hear the issues being discussed.  The Times carried an article where the reporter went into a bar and tried to persuade the people to turn over to watch the debate.  He could only do this by promising the bar free drinks for the duration.  The bar’s attention slowly became focused on the screens: booing, cheering and by the end, clapping.   

If through these debates the people of Britain start to reengage with the political process, then all of us will be the real winners.


Christopher James Heyworth (aka Christo46) said...

Well reported, Martin - I've shared your family's comments on to my FB site.

Martin Veart said...

Thank you Christopher. I have posted this blog in my Facebook notes if that is easier for linking to?

Francis Sedgemore said...

I only saw the edited highlights on Newsnight, but still it was interesting. Or perhaps it was interesting as I didn't have to sit through the whole thing.

Anyways, I'm not surprised that your boy came out on top. He was up against a psychopath who cannot look people in the eye, and a cardboard cutout old-Etonian with a moderate level of PR skill, but who cannot cope when he really has to wing it. In the circumstances Clegg did very well, and was mostly honest.

Whether the ~15% swing to the LibDems that resulted from last night's debate will transform into votes on 6 May is another matter. And even if it does, it's the distribution of votes that counts when it comes to deciding on parliamentary seats.

Until last night, various psephologists were saying that the LibDems could struggle to retain all their existing seats, even with an increase in the popular vote. With Clegg's new-found popularity and a big push between now and the election, maybe the LibDems can squeeze a few more seats, but will it be enough for a hung parliament?

I hope so. My preferred outcome would be a Labour-led government in which Gordon Brown is discretely removed from the scene after six months or so, to be put out to grass with a nice pension and the thanks of a grateful party if not country. There is no need for any dramatic defenestration.

Martin Veart said...

Thank you once again for the comments Francis. I'm not sure that the country wants another Labour administration but the Conservatives would truly be appalling. Following our Scottish experience, I would recommend no coalition but I don't know if that would be workable either.

The 15% you quote was an unadjusted figure. It was based upon the 4000 people who watched the show. Corrected for the country at large, it transmutes to a plus three percent swing for the Liberal Democrats. Considering the pundits were saying that beforehand that would be the maximum swing up for grabs, Clegg did very well.

Belle said...

well written!