A complete waste of everyone's time.
All Cameron had to do then last night was turn up, repeat the mantras we've now heard 8 bazillion times, and that would be enough. The sheer number of people on the stage would ensure there couldn't possibly be a clear winner, the debate itself would be completely unfocused, those already decided would insist their leader won, and the undecided would be left as confused as ever.
And what do you know, it went completely according to the Lynton Crosby plan. Cameron had been allocated the position on the far right by the drawing of lots, and while he might have preferred to be centre stage it reflected exactly how he played it. He involved himself as little as possible, and when he did it was to either attack Ed Miliband personally or Labour's time in office. He briefly came alive when he declared all of the parties except his would ramp up the debt and put up taxes, but otherwise he was content to just let everyone come to the conclusion his opponents were wasters and the entire thing was a waste of everyone's time.
Which it was. Rarely are there two hours of prime time television where so little of consequence happens, where issues that in a better more disciplined format could have been properly examined were if anything made more obscure. Absolutely everything about it was wrong, from the number of participants, the questions asked and the answers given right up to the complete pointlessness of there being an audience at all. Little wonder Victoria Prosser finally lost patience and assailed David Cameron, only in keeping with the debate in general completely ineffectually. That she was then grabbed by a mere 7 security guards and marched out speaks volumes of the limits of debate at an event supposedly dedicated to it.
Nigel Farage, having realised the format had been similarly designed to drown him out attempted to get round it by being as loud, obnoxious and one note as he could get away with. Everything can be solved by leaving the EU and imposing a cap on immigration, whether it be housing, the deficit, hospital parking charges or Jodie Marsh. All these parties are the same he repeatedly intoned, and before declaring that the root cause of the problems with the NHS was all the foreigners with HIV, he played his usual strategy of making clear just how outrageous he was about to be and how his opponents would be mortified. If a politician has ever been so boring, so predictable, so completely transparent over such a lengthy period of TV before I haven't seen it, and yet as the polling has shown, being a monomaniac, pretending to be an outsider and saying despicable things really impresses a substantial number of voters.
Distinctly unimpressive were both Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood, neither of whom came anywhere near to justifying their presence. Perhaps Wood's performance will have gone down well in Wales, but I can't now remember anything she said except for her response to Farage's HIV gambit. Bennett was by some distance the worst of the lot, by the end desperately bringing up climate change in an attempt to get on more comfortable ground, only it was far too late. Almost as mystifying is just what so many seem to have got out of Nicola Sturgeon's performance, which as ever from the SNP was all big talk with absolutely no substance to back it up. She was without doubt strongest on tuition fees, but then it's very easy to talk about how it's a betrayal to take away the free education you had from today's students when the money funding it is topped up by the Westminster establishment the SNP so rails against.
With everything stacked against Ed Miliband, that he either came out on top or was there or thereabouts in the various polls is the best he could have hoped for. Throughout he was assured, spoke to the camera and tried his level best to involve Cameron more than he wanted to be. None of Cameron's jibes or insults stuck, and his pre-prepared line that Cameron wanted only to talk about the past was one of the few interventions that had an impact, as did his late ad-lib about Cameron and Clegg wanting to blame each other and both being right.
Overall though this was a debate where the result had already been decided, to the point where both the Sun and Telegraph clearly had their front pages finished before it was over. No one could possibly have emerged as the unqualified winner from such a format, and despite some of the more excited commentary few are going to conclude 5, let alone 7-party politics is the way forward based on what was on offer. The real story remains the broadcasters in connivance with the Conservatives denied the public the chance to see a true showdown between the only two leaders who can be prime minister, and we're all the worse off for it.