Leader debate leaves public divided

The leader debate in a nutshell [Image: Lizzie Harvey on Twitter.]

The leader debate in a nutshell [Image: Lizzie Harvey on Twitter.]

What did people want from the televised political leaders’ debate?

It’s a question that has troubled this writer ever since it ended and the reactions started coming in.

The spin doctors and the hacks in the right-wing press claimed victory for the parties they support – of course. That’s why the front pages of The Sun and the Daily Torygraph proclaimed victory for David Cameron. They had been prepared before the debate had even finished because those rags were always going to make that claim.

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A significant number came out in support of Nigel Farage – the UKIP party faithful and those who believed his anti-immigration, anti-Europe spiel. Of course, they might have felt differently, had they known he only plans to reduce immigration by around 28,000 a year, but it’s easy to deceive someone who doesn’t want to know the facts.

Extreme: The signed version of the debate provided this interpretation of a Nigel Farage comment.

Extreme: The signed version of the debate provided this interpretation of a Nigel Farage comment.

There seemed to be a swell of support for the three female leaders. A knee-jerk reaction might be to suggest that this was simply because they weren’t men; this writer does not subscribe to that view. It is far more likely that people warmed to Natalie Bennett, Leanne Wood and especially Nicola Sturgeon because this was their first mass exposure to the British viewing (and voting) public. They head the so-called ‘minority’ parties and are often excluded from the national conversation by reason of their size.

Not only that, but they had a message that people wanted to hear: No More Austerity. It was pleasantly surprising to see all three pounding the message home against a defensive David Cameron – and it is in this context that we should measure the public’s reaction to them. This blog has stated previously that the larger parties cannot hope to gain popular support if they are offering only what they want, rather than what the people want. Now the people have found organisations that are offering what they want. This Writer feared that they would take votes from Labour, rather than the Conservatives; now that outcome seems less likely.

Nicola Sturgeon, in particular, is to be congratulated for her performance which has eased, somewhat, This Writer’s concerns about her party gaining influence in Westminster. She came across very well and seemed to be offering an olive branch to Ed Miliband in her opening statement, which included support for at least three Labour policies. However, there remains the question of how far she may be trusted; she repeated the lie that Labour had voted to support £30 billion of Tory austerity cuts when Labour did nothing of the sort (Miliband put her straight but the accusation always receives more attention than the rebuttal). And what of the rumour that the SNP is planning a Unilateral Declaration of Independence for Scotland – whether the majority of its people want it or not – after the election?

That leaves the three ‘main’ parties. Nick Clegg was a joke. Nobody agreed with Nick this time.

David Cameron also lost traction. He did manage to crowbar into the debate the messages this blog reported yesterday but nobody seemed impressed by them; Ed Miliband debunked the claims about Labour pretty sharpish and the public wanted to believe the ladies when it came to the economy. He scraped the bottom of the barrel several times – yet again quoting Liam Byrne’s ill-advised note about there being no money in 2010 as the reason austerity cuts had to happen (in fact, the UK was never in danger of bankruptcy but Cameron likes to make that claim, even though he knows better); and once more using his late son Ivan as his ‘human shield’ against attacks about the state of the NHS. The audience didn’t groan, but the country did. Asked where the £12 billion of ‘welfare’ cuts would be made, he again refused to answer, meaning the Tories are planning something extremely unpleasant for you, if they win. And – amazingly – he thinks ‘Free’ (in fact they are exorbitantly expensive) schools are a good idea!

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That leaves Ed Miliband. whose confident, fact-filled performance ensured he won the ‘snap’ poll conducted online immediately after the debate – if only by a whisker. He had plans; he described them. He apologised for the mistakes Labour has previously acknowledged; he didn’t apologise for the party’s current plans. He stared down Cameron when the Tory leader tried to accuse him of financial irresponsibility, and he had the country on his side when he did so, because Cameron’s party has doubled the national debt and failed to balance the books while inflicting a huge human cost on their fellow citizens. His narrow victory this week followed a narrow defeat last week, meaning his stature amongst the public is growing. People are starting to like this man. The more he mentions what he would do “if I am Prime Minister”, the easier it is for them to see him in that role.

So we return to the question at the top of this piece: What did people want from this debate?

Judging from the reactions as they developed, it seems people wanted something fresh and new-looking, that corresponded with their own desire – not just for an end to the oppression of the last five years, but for a reversal of it.

That’s all very well, but those aren’t the qualities that are needed to run a country successfully. A national leader needs a cool head and the stamina to see long-term matters to their conclusion, for the sake of the whole nation.

The evidence on display yesterday suggests that Ed Miliband has what it takes. Slow and steady may win the race after all.

But will the public be too dazzled by the others to realise this?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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15 thoughts on “Leader debate leaves public divided

  1. casalealex

    The violins must have been out in force last night, when, as expected, Cameron used his well worn cliche about his son Ivan again; in his usual endeavour to disclaim any belief that he did not care for the NHS whilst selling it off to his party donors and Tory cohorts.

  2. bookmanwales

    I for one groaned loudly when he mentioned his son again… such hypocrisy when unleashing the severest cuts in disabled services for decades.

  3. TomMagenta

    That cartoon is amazing. XD

    Major props to the brave, incredible woman who stood up to Cameron and (attempted to) reveal the human cost of his policies. That took guts.

  4. Pete B

    I wonder if the average punter is weary of Cameron keep using Ivan.It shows he has not yet stooped low enough.I thought Cameron was the one who was close to losing his temper at times.When CMD and his side kick Nick started having a go at each other it was hilarious.Handbags at dawn.

    I thought Miliband did all right,Cameron,s thin lips,and most of the others hardly agreeing with anything he said made him seem isolated,in fact a lone voice on his austerity programme.

    Farage was his usual self,Sturgeon did not do to bad but I thought that Leanne Wood did not come across to good,to me at any rate. Natalie Bennett said some good things,but I give it to Ed Miliband who kept his cool,unlike CMD.

  5. amnesiaclinic

    Victoria Prosser is the audience member who spoke out. The clip of her talking to the reporters afterwards is on David Icke’s Headlines today.

  6. Nina

    What did people want from the leaders’ debate? Well, I wanted some of them to take a stand against austerity, and I got three, coincidentally all the women.

    While there was an anti-austerity message from Natalie Bennett, Nicola Sturgeon and Leanne Wood, none of them made the points I wanted to see made. I don’t claim to know much, but I do know that the establishment have done a very good job of making the public believe that a country’s finances are comparable to a household budget, which is absolutely ridiculous.

    My eyes glazed over every time I heard someone talk about “balancing the books” because it’s a complete misnomer. It was reported in the news sometime last week that inflation is at zero, which suggests to me that we have room to increase any quantitative easing which would allow for further spending and investment in public services, not less, which in turn would boost the economy and help prevent any negative effects from further falls in inflation.

    There’s also an unvoiced truth in all this austerity. It won’t end. For as long as the political consensus remains to pursue cuts, then those cuts will be permanent. When there is money (even by Tory standards), it won’t go on replacing what we’ve lost. If your library is closed, it will stay closed. If your A&E service has been “centralised” and the department closed at your local hospital, it will remain so. Now that our students pay for education, it will never be free again. Your eligibility for state pension will never get closer, only further away. If there’s no change in direction, all of this will continue to stand, even if some future government has more money than they know what to do with.

    This is why the young people face a poorer life than the generation before. Austerity is not about saving money, it’s about managing the expectations of the population. It’s about reframing society so that we no longer think that a pension is earned, so that we no longer expect free libraries and education, so that we no longer consider social security money well-spent to offset crime and poverty. It’s to make us grateful for what we’ve got instead of angry about what’s been stolen.

    I heard an anti-austerity message from the three women. Of them, only Nicola Sturgeon came close to the points I raise, and that only in respect of education.

    So I was disappointed.

    Sorry for rambling there, Mike.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Agree with you about the ‘household budget’ fallacy. Wasn’t it Farage who talked about having ‘maxed out’ the country’s credit cards, as if that could happen?
      Balancing the books is often confused with bringing in a balanced budget, so you’re right there, too.
      I agree also about the effect of austerity. Once a service is gone, it’s much more expensive to bring it back.
      I can’t comment on your inflation/quantitative easing suggestion as I simply don’t know enough about the subject.

      So perhaps – certainly after this election – some of us should be campaigning to make sure people don’t forget we should be working to get all these things back, rather than let them disappear into history and watch the super-rich reap the benefits of not having to pay for them in taxes?

      1. joanna may

        I think services can be regained by calling them something else, (please forgive if I am totally on the wrong track)! But my friend was made redundant when the coalition blundered in, in 2010, after 17yrs with the NHS. He was re-employed 4 months later on 3 monthly contracts, doing the same job, but with a different job description. I think it was the only way he could have legally got his job back, after being paid a redundancy package. The private firm, within the NHS has folded, and now, fortunately he is being headhunted by 3 private firms within the NHS. I do feel rather saddened that the NHS is using money to hire the private firms, instead of doing it themselves. (great! Now I have probably made myself look like an idiot!!) At the moment survival is, and has been a lifelong concern to me!

      2. Nina

        You’re absolutely right, Mike. If we’re to have any hope of being listened to, and of getting those things back, Labour have to win, and win a majority.

        Personally, I’d prefer a Labour/SNP coalition, but since Miliband has ruled that out… I don’t know. I fear a ‘supply and demand’ arrangement with SNP MP votes would make for a shaky and unstable minority Labour government.

        I caught the beginning of that ‘Coalition’ on TV the other day, and Gordon Brown was right there. How different might things have been if there had been a Labour/LD coalition instead of the monster we were subject to. We’d be in a better place now, no question. He was a good chancellor. He’d have got us through the recession.

      3. Mike Sivier Post author

        ‘Confidence and supply’. I agree – but then it might not have to last too long.
        Agree with you also about a Labour/LD coalition but sadly Nick Clegg is more Tory than anything else.

    2. Michele Witchy Eve

      Nina’s points are a fair summation of what awaits the citizens of the UK (and most other global citizens sooner or later) and the only exception would be on QE and investment. Nina is right in what she says could be done with QE, but so far that extra money from QE has gone straight into major bank holding accounts (off-shore mostly, one suspects) or back into the financial markets via stocks and shares business (which would account for the disparity between the increase in wealth but a still sluggish, or lowering productivity rate). Little, if any of the QE has been used for genuine production-increasing investment, which means lots of poorly paid jobs that don’t produce much more then moving decreasing amounts of actual money around in smaller and smaller circles. It never got near small and medium businesses, which was part of the original idea for QE.

      There is also the argument of using private finance investment in tandem with QE . The Tories were pushing this idea strongly pre- and early post-election last time, but seem to have gone quiet about it this time. There’s shed-loads of capital sitting around doing nothing in large corporate accounts, while those same corporations borrow money (at nearly zero percent interest rates) from elsewhere to facilitate tax avoidance schemes, often borrowing from their own sub-companies (holding the company’s capital pile) set up for this purpose. Private finance doesn’t want to part with a penny they don’t have to; they are lapping up a fair amount of the QE finance too, so why should they?

      The problem for any party who wins is not only one of investment but of who ultimately controls our financial health as a country – it isn’t the people we vote for that’s for sure. While this remains true, no party, no matter what their plans are, can do much about the financial state of our economy (except, perhaps, make it worse) and therefore can’t change much else. Taxation offers some respite but no ultimate cure. The only choices our political leaders will have is whether to cream some off for themselves while planning a quick exit later, or stick with their ethical principals and try to do a Canute. Our problems have gone beyond sovereign politics.

      1. Michele Witchy Eve

        Additional: “Our problems have gone beyond sovereign politics.” This point more than anything is why I am so angry at Labour. They can’t be that economically illiterate as to not realise the problems of corporate power over sovereign politics, and yet not one word from Labour (or any other party) to open a debate about it. Why not?!

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      It never really was. Osborne just used it to manipulate public opinion.
      The rates of interest we were charged were never going to change because lenders knew the UK is always able to finance its debts.

  7. Rupert Mitchell (@rupert_rrl)

    What we need to do now is to appoint a government which will run the country for the benefit of the whole; not just the rich but for all of us. I liked Nicola Sturgeon’s comments but I would need her to confirm her views rather than leave it up to the newspaper fabrications.

    More money in the hands of the general public means more expansion of all business activities and more taxation to help run the country for ALL of us which just does not seem to be Conservative policy as they seem only to be concerned with their own self-indulgencies and somewhat vulgar life-styles and expect any austerity plans to fall on the already over-burdened shoulders of those who can’t afford them.

    Just a little more taxation on those very rich who have made their money, often through their hard-work and cleverness but certainly not without the support of their work forces, could solve many of our problems without damaging those already suffering for Tory greed and selfishness.

    Come on Ed! YOU are the one to get this put right if anyone can.

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