Well, I’ve just watched the leaders’ debate. Here are a few random impressions of how it went.
The questions weren’t particularly well distributed. Two on education. Nothing on tax, the economy only addressed in passing.
Everyone knows that the SNP are whipping Labour’s backside in Scotland. Many English voters will have seen why for the first time. A very impressive performance from Nicola Sturgeon.
Leanne Wood also had a good evening, possibly benefiting from being by far the least known. But a good showing for Plaid only piles yet more misery on Ed Miliband.
Speaking of which, Ed barely smiled all evening. He looked like someone who really didn’t want to be there. His attempts to be measured and statesmanlike merely made him sound terminally dull. His best – well, only – joke was spoiled by poor timing.
Most people, including myself, were probably expecting another car crash from Natalie Bennett. In fact, she did very well. Although that’s mainly because nobody challenged the Greens’ more loony policies, preferring instead to take potshots at Labour and the Tories.
Nick Clegg didn’t perform as well as he did last time round, but that was only to be expected. He didn’t really manage to square the circle of attacking the Tories while taking credit for the success of the coalition. But did land some good blows on Labour.
Nigel Farage seemed to revel in being politically incorrect. But there’s only so far that playing the role of court jester can take you. Leanne Wood’s slapdown of him was priceless.
David Cameron seemed to be deliberately trying to remain above the fray, which was probably the best course of action for an incumbent. He will have enjoyed Miliband’s discomfort.
I don’t think there was a clear winner. Farage dog-whistled throughout and will have had his supporters nodding along, but won’t have convinced any waverers. Bennett avoided the massive bear traps inherent in her party’s policies and came across as positive and passionate. Sturgeon lived up to expectations. Wood exceeded them, but only by comparison with what would be expected from a non-entity (in England, anyway). Both the nationalists probably made a lot of English Labour supporters wish they could vote for them. Cameron avoided taking any major hits, but didn’t really land many either. Clegg ducked and dived and came across as a bit slippery – a definite drop in performance from 2010. But Ed Miliband was the clear loser, coming across as wooden and lacking in gravitas.
Will it make any significant difference to the outcome of the election? Probably not. There’s not going to be anything like the Clegg bounce from 2010. It was noticeable how little anyone said “I agree with…”. But if the Nats get a boost then that makes it harder for Labour to get a majority, or even be the biggest party in a hung parliament. Ditto the Greens – any electoral gain for them is likely to be mostly at the expense of Labour. Meanwhile, a lot of people on the moderate right will have watched Farage’s performance and concluded that they’re better off sticking with Cameron. So, in party terms, it’s probably been a good night for the Conservatives.