Liberal Democrats across the country have had a spring in their step since the leaders debate ended last night. I know I’ve found myself spontaneously bursting into song on more than one occassion today. The very positive immediate reaction has been followed by more good news in the headlines and commentary of today’s press.
While there have been a few partisan voices trying to swim against the trend, the overwhelming verdict from the public, the media, and most of the political classes has been that Clegg gave a debate winning performance. Yet a funny thought occurs to me. I have seen Nick Clegg do better.
Thinking back over the debate, and how the various onlne forms of feedback responded to it, it is clear that there was no key moment and no killer line. Instead Clegg’s performance, which was solid and well judged, was succesful because of three elements. Only two of which were in Clegg’s control.
First, as many pundits have been observing, Clegg was very good at reaching out to and engaging with the TV audience. More than the other two he understood what the real game was about that night. He spoke, often direct to camera, with a conversational tone that people watching responded to.
Seccond, it was from the beginning of the debate until the end consistent. There were no spectacular moments. Instead I believe that by being consistently good through the evening his performance allowed people to first take notice, then recognise it, and then move to active support. In this way it built momentum.
Finally, there was the poor performance of the other two. Brown was, well, Gordon Brown. But Cameron was let’s be honest just not very good.
For these reasons Clegg was able to win without putting in a stellar performance.
I saw a comment on Twitter that Clegg ended the debate thinking that he fluffed the first half. Whether that is true or not, and it has the ring of authenticity, there are elements of his performance that can be improved.
Anyone who has seen Nick Clegg do a Q & A at conference, or attended any of his ‘Meet Nick Clegg’ events, or indeed seen his interview with Paxman this week, will know that purely in terms of the business of answering questions and making political points he can do much better.
While we bask in the reflected glow of last night and wait to see what impact it has on the opinion polls, let’s pause and consider what may happen in the remaining two debates. I know I could be tempting fate, but is the best still yet to come?
This content was originally posted on my old Strange Thoughts blog.