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Friday, April 17, 2015 

What might have been.

Last night's debate was superior in every way to the first.  This was primarily for the reason there weren't as many leaders on the stage; who could have known that less would mean more?  Certainly not the broadcasters, who haven't been criticised anywhere near enough for the botching of the format.  That the BBC last night allowed the parties that claimed they hadn't been invited to be in the bullshit room afterwards was a disgrace in itself, albeit a request they probably had to accede to under Ofcom rules on impartiality.

David Cameron's refusal to as Ed Miliband put it turn up for the interview did at least finally become as much of a theme of the debate as the questions asked.  Miliband's decision to take part was also a major risk; it could so easily have turned into an hour and a half of Ed being assailed from both left and right, without either of the governing parties there to take a share of the flak.

Despite a rough first half hour where Nicola Sturgeon was as confident and comfortable as before, by the end the relative weakness of the SNP bargaining position regardless of however many seats they take off Labour in Scotland was much clearer.  If she means what she says about not letting the Tories in come what may, then her only option is to do a Polly Toynbee and get out a nosepeg.  She doesn't want a coalition, Labour doesn't want a coalition, leaving only a confidence and supply deal, which inevitably means even less will be on offer than otherwise would.

Rather than looking the establishment figure surrounded by insurgents, the opposite ended up being the case for Ed.  He gave straight answers to straight questions repeatedly, flummoxing Nigel Farage over his gotcha attempt on an EU army, and dare it be said, was prime ministerial.  As he was the only leader on the platform with a chance of being prime minister that wasn't difficult admittedly, but such was the opportunity he was presented with by Cameron deciding to spend the evening washing his hair.

Farage by contrast had a nightmare, although when 27% still think he won a debate any objective person would conclude he flunked he won't be too upset.  It has to be remembered everything Farage does is calibrated towards the UKIP base, such as it is.  Claiming the audience is biased when it's been put together by an independent pollster might go down badly in the hall itself and with everyone who isn't a UKIP, but will have likely struck a chord with the "real audience" at home cheering on the blaming of everything on immigrants and the EU, disgusted their leader wasn't being clapped along.  Such is the problem UKIP faces come May the 8th, whether Farage wins in Thanet South or not.  Their manifesto, based on fantasy figures as it is, espouses a respectable hard-right platform designed to appeal to wavering Tories.  The message however remains completely one note and simply won't maintain appeal indefinitely, especially if Cameron somehow manages to conjure together another coalition and holds the EU referendum promised.

After failing to make any impact in the first debate, Natalie Bennett had a much better night.  She repeatedly tried to steer the debate onto Green territory to her credit, whether she was wholly successful in doing so or not, and will probably have won a few more over.  Leanne Wood was once again a complete waste of a podium, only really getting a hit in when she called Nigel on claiming UKIP was being abused after he himself had insulted the audience.  Again though, when all she has to do is turn up and be vaguely plausible it's hardly going to make a major difference to Plaid's support.

The feeling I was left with was what might have been had this been the 5-way debate originally envisioned, with the Greens and UKIP alongside the main three.  Miliband is clearly gaining in confidence and building momentum, and yet hasn't been allowed the opportunity to face off against the main two in a format that allows for more detail.  All that remains now is the Question Time special, where the leaders will appear separately.  Ed could still shine, but any real danger for the Tories of a major re-evaluation of the Labour leader has passed.

If nothing else, the debate this time did offer a vision of a different politics.  In stark contrast, on Newsnight a couple of hours later the Northern Ireland leaders faced off against one another.  6 old white men in a room has never looked quite so out of date.

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