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Up All Night

Well somebody had to do it on behalf of the National Rust – last night, having downed my evening meal and a large slug of vodka and tonic, I switched my television to ITV at about two minutes to 8.00pm, took a deep breath and prepared to watch the General Election’s 7-person leaders’ debate.

Every political journo in town has given the public the benefit of their impressions, so here come mine.

Firstly, I managed to take awake and up for all two hours (well, all 120 minutes minus the advertising breaks). That has got to say something – and for me, it was the fact that, on balance, the event was far better and more revealing that I was expecting. In other words, despite my basement floor expectations, I regarded it was one of ‘moments’ of the General Election campaign so far.

EtchinghamSecondly, for me, the biggest winner of the night was the presenter/moderator Julie Etchingham. Dressed in heels, a tight-fitting white top and ‘serious’ glasses, her performance was cool, professional and damned near flawless.

[Ooooh Matron! She can tie me and chains and flog me within an inch of my life anytime she likes …]

As regards the leaders, the overall conclusion I gained was that there really are Two Nations in the United Kingdom and ‘never the twain shall meet’. By that, I mean – presuming for a moment that by definition all national political party leaders are highly intelligent – that there really are two very different ways of viewing how UK society does, can or should work.

Both cannot be correct, or incontrovertible (having said that, I guess, to cover all bases here, that it’s entirely possible they’re both wrong, of course), so  – if it we had parallel universes, with whatever specific conditions in terms of physics and time were necessary to achieve this – the only way of finding out which was the superior would be to create two identical versions of the United Kingdom for a period of exactly five years from 8th May 2015 … and let each of them run one of them just as they would like. On 8th May 2020 we’d be able to compare the two …

The two views lined up broadly as Ed Miliband (Labour), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Natalie Bennett (Green) and Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru) in the ‘Red’ corner and David Cameron (Tory) and Nick Clegg (Lib-Dem) in the ‘Blue’ corner for these purposes.

Boiled to its essence, the Reds believe that every human being in the United Kingdom – irrespective of intelligence, ability, ambition, drive or personal contribution/responsibility – has an inalienable right to live a comfortable life, however that is defined, and that the main (if not sole) purpose of a UK government is to deliver it, regardless of the cost and how it is paid for.

Meanwhile, the Blues hold a quite different view. They believe – at the bottom line – that, whilst they would always pay lip service to the concept of ‘providing a safety net for the weak, vulnerable or disabled’, people should be only entitled to receive what they can attain by their own hard work and effort or, alternatively, that which the UK government can afford from the taxation it has managed to collect.

Accordingly last night the ‘Reds’ collectively regarded each and every Blues’ coalition government initiative to impose ‘austerity’ since 2010 as nothing more than a deliberate, dastardly and unfair ideological scheme to impose poverty and pain on everyone in the country other (that is) than their mates, who largely work in the banking, hedge fund managing and estate agent professions. To the Reds, the supposed drive to ‘balance the books’ and reduce the deficit was not a necessary at all, it was simply a straightforward either/or choice and, being inherently self-serving and evil, the Blues had gleefully chosen wrong.

The Blues, of course, would have asked where the Reds thought money and wealth comes from [does an inexhaustible supply of it grow on trees, from which it can simply plucked accord to need, for example?].

To finish, some impressions of the individual leaders:

bennett2Natalie Bennett (Green) was well-prepared but for me lost percentage points every time she spoke simply because of her Australian accent – looking for something to judge the contestants by, I’m afraid the racist thought “Why doesn’t she sort her own country out first?” regularly sprang to my mind. That said, she did benefit from the fact that everyone else was on their best behaviour (despite what they might have been thinking or screaming inside) and therefore her loonier and completely unfundable policies went unchallenged. As a television viewer, I couldn’t take her seriously.

clegg3I was prejudiced against Nick Clegg (Lib-Dem) before the programme and my inner sense of derision never departed. He’s a busted flush – he performed just as he always does, earnest career-politician he, spewing politic-speak by the yard, but this time the Great Unwashed have got his number.

He’s the epitome of The Man In The Westminster Bubble – enough said.

farageI felt Nigel Farage (UKIP) would have scored better last night with the type of voter to whom his views would appeal than perhaps the pundits – and his opponents last night – would imagine.

When he went large with a snipe at benefit tourists with HIV who get expensive treatments on the NHS, the ‘Reds’ and indeed Clegg queued up to attack him for being outrageously racist, anti-immigrant, prejudiced and unacceptable. They might fondly have thought this would simultaneously put voters off him and show themselves in a positive, caring, light.

In my view, on the contrary, it would have reinforced his constituency’s support. To them, he was simply saying what needed to be said and – in a way – the fact the others (who were either in denial or didn’t dare mention the problem themselves) attacked him for saying it would have simply served to prove him right.

milband2For me, on the night Ed Miliband (Labour) did pretty well. He started from a low base, of course, because undoubtedly – just looking at him – in all honesty, the average member of the public cannot possible imagine him as Prime Minister material.

However, compared to Cameron, at least he came across as human. He certainly strove to give the impression he cared about ordinary people, i.e. his core vote.

woodSadly, Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru) was also hampered by her accent. Nobody in their right mind would give someone with her ‘I’m Leanne from the Valleys’ (Gavin And Stacey-type) lilt any job with a significant degree of responsibility attached to it. She looked just like the sort of person who would attend a Wales v England rugby match at the Millennium Stadium dressed as a daffodil. Her pitch was that Wales wanted proportionally ‘the same amount of subsidy’ from England as Scotland was already enjoying and she definitely believes in fairies and that money grows on trees.

sturgeonNicola Sturgeon (SNP) was impressive and probably emerged at the top of the pile.

She makes no attempt to disguise her old-style unreconstructed Labour/Socialist leanings, in fact she’s totally unrepentant about them. She gained my admiration for that.

She is also a consummate (and, even more important, audience-friendly) debater. My only slight reservation was that it didn’t seem to me that Mr Sturgeon – or indeed anyone else close to Scotland’s first minister – can have much fun in their lives.

cameronDavid Cameron (Tory) also came away relatively untouched, but he never quite does it for me.

Any ordinary human being, in a conversation down the pub, would improvise their chat, answer questions directly and try to ‘connect’ with those he’s speaking to. Far too often last night, in response to each new argument, challenge, allegation or point put to him, Cameron never once answered directly but instead simply regurgitated his stock patter (“We’ve halved the deficit … created 2 million jobs … 8,000 more doctors …” ad infinitum) over and over again.

Last night, every time he did this, I deducted 2 points from his score. By the end he was only just in credit.

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About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts