My immediate reaction to the final leader’s debate of the general election campaign last Thursday was to call it for Clegg first, then Brown, and then Cameron last. However, the consensus of the polls and the commentators over the last few days was to put Cameron as the winner, followed by Clegg, with Brown last. Did I get it wrong? Did I let my partisanship blind me to what really happened?
I have been wondering about this and I do want to, in part, change my mind. I think I was right in my judgement – but only for the first half of the debate.
The format of the debate was to discuss economic questions first. In answering the questions on the economy Nick Clegg gave the best performance. Gordon Brown, playing to his strengths, was also more effective than he had been in the previous two debates. Cameron I thought was weak.
But then the debate changed and more general questions were allowed. Nick Clegg came under intense pressure to defend his party’s policies, notably on immigration. He did this robustly but he lost the opportunity to go on the offensive and make fresh arguments on his terms. Brown, away from economic issues, also did less well. So I could concede that maybe Cameron did ‘win’ this half of the debate.
However, overall I still believe that Cameron was the loser. I repeat what I said in the last post. The Tories are in the hunt for a majority. To secure that Cameron needed not only to win but to win in a big. He needed to provide a game changing performance to shift the likely outcome of the election away from hung parliament territory. He did not achieve that.
This content was originally posted on my old Strange Thoughts blog.