No winners, no mistake
Many miles of column and commentary space will be devoted to picking apart every last detail of last night’s leader’s debate. Their collective wisdom is that Nick Clegg was the ‘winner’ followed (depending on how you see it) by either Mr. Cameron in the blue corner in Mr. Brown in the iffy-pink corner. The truth, as I see it, is that they all did rather well and – therefore – they all did rather badly. Because when it comes to the game of political debates, just like game of knockout: you don’t win, other people lose.
The point is that these gladiatorial clashes are really a simple act of brinkmanship – the killer blow is the response to your opponent’s gaffe and if there is no gaffe there is no killer blow. Consider the most famous of the debates from across the Atlantic (where they woke up to the power of TV politics a long time ago). Those that have genuinely impacted on the electoral narrative have been those where mistakes were made. None of them were ‘won’ as it were, all of them were lost. Be it Gerald Ford claiming that there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, Nixon sweating rivers, George Bush Snr looking at his watch out of frustrated boredom or John McCain refusing to use Barack Obama’s name (or even look at him) it was catastrophic errors that decided who had won, not well spoken lines or powerful oratory.
So last night amounts to a score draw because none of our three candidates did anything awful. Sure, Gordon Brown laughed in a manner vaguely reminiscent of Nick Griffin on Question Time and Nick Clegg took the whole ‘relaxed’ vibe too far and stood with his hands in his pockets but none of them really, seriously fluffed it up. There’s two more to go, of course, and we may yet get a sight of Clegg, Cameron or Brown squirming as they realize a terrible mistake – but I predict the impact of last night’s performances on the actual polls will be minimal at best because to have a real debate winner you need a real debate fluffer.