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Friday, April 23, 2010 

The second obligatory debate post.

Yesterday's debate was clearly inferior to the first, both in the questions posed and the substance offered by all three of the leaders of the main parties (transcript PDF). Maybe it was partially down to the novelty of the first having worn off, but even though both David Cameron and Gordon Brown had clearly improved on their showing in the first debate, the event was hardly electrifying. It did have its moments, especially when Brown told Clegg to get real over Trident, which was less disingenuous than one of the other lines he had noted down to use, and when Cameron did his usual unrighteous indignation act at Labour misrepresenting Tory policy, which always seems to make him far angrier than anything else, especially when they are far more worthwhile things to be furious about, and lastly when Clegg seemed to be almost flirting with the woman who posed the question on political reform, but for the most part it dragged along.

Part of the blame for that surely has to be laid at Sky's door. For what was meant to be at least partially a foreign policy debate, two questions, one on Europe and one hypothetical about what we might do if there was another "multinational operation to remove al-Qaida ... from a failed state" was pathetic. Were there seriously no other questions posed on foreign policy which were worthy of discussion, such as their stance on maintaining the "special relationship", on foreign aid, on Israel/Palestine, on Russia, on energy supplies, on African development, on tackling violent extremism, on the exporting, promotion and collusion with torture and rendition, even on North Korea or Iran? Instead we covered ground which had already been gone over in the first debate, both on immigration, with the question posed naturally by an immigrant as seems to be required now, and on political reform. Important topics both, but not ones which couldn't have been sacrificed for questions on what the debate was actually meant to be on.

Not that Sky seemed to have any interest in even pretending to be impartial. I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed just how much the camera seemed to love David Cameron in contrast to both Clegg and Brown, but it was becoming so obvious at one point that it was getting beyond a joke. Time and again the shot focused on Cameron head on, slowly zooming in as he made his point, with even the director presumably realising he was over doing it by then also giving Clegg and Brown the same treatment in the last half hour. It may just have been how the cameras were set up and how the three were positioned, but Brown seemed to get the brunt of the unflattering shots, with him often being shown in profile, his jowls dangling and his crumpled, cavernous face being emphasised, while Cameron's jokes resulted in cutaways to laughing audience members, despite Brown getting by far the biggest laugh of the night with his polarising line about the other two squabbling like his children at bath time. Then there was Adam Boulton, a far less effective moderator than Alastair Stewart, whose smugness when asking Nick Clegg about his appearance on the front of the Telegraph, likely to have been a breach of the debate rules, was insufferable. The only thing Clegg and Brown can take is that the camera did at least still see just how unhappy Cameron looked at times when not answering a question, grimacing and almost certainly not enjoying the event, even if his overall performance was better than before.

Despite not gaining the clear victory that he did last week, Clegg just needed to do well again to keep his party's profile high, and even if he took up positions on occasion which were inadvisable, such as defending the EU on the grounds of cooperation on crime and repeating the nonsense which is that by being in Afghanistan we're somehow preventing attacks here, he still stood firm on Trident and an amnesty for illegal immigrants, making the obvious point that you can't possibly deport 900,000 people even if you knew where they lived. He came out of it looking again like a real alternative, and when the polls suggest that they could even win the largest share of the vote, that's all that was being asked of him. Cameron did better, but nowhere near as strong as his sessions at prime minister's questions have on occasion been, and again banged on endlessly about the jobs tax while mentioning very little of the policies actually listed in his manifesto, only bringing up the "big society" in his closing statement. Brown defied his unpopularity by either drawing level in most polls or only being a short distance behind the others, and even if he plumbed the depths on occasion, especially in accusing Clegg of "anti-Americianism", he's standing firm and doing far better than many predicted. It remains Cameron that's lagging behind the others in expectations, and while he has not been "found out" or shown to be shallow, the Tories must continue to disappointed in his failing to rise above one leader of the past and one upstart as they have so often been depicted.

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