So now we have had two Leaders’ Debates, last night’s on Sky News (“first for breaking wind”) generating more heat than light. Following the live transmission, there were more than a hundred complaints to Ofcom about moderator Adam Boulton’s apparent flouting of Rule 63 (which states “It is not the moderator’s role to criticise or comment on the leaders’ answers”) after he pitched a question outside the remit of the debate and then heckled Corporal Clegg over his answer.
There have also been criticisms that the Sky presentation favoured Young Dave, and that cameras cut away from both Clegg and Pa Broon while they were speaking. But this is only to be expected from a channel that is under the ultimate control of Murdoch the Interfering Foreigner. Moreover, Boulton was clearly out of his depth: as I’ve said before, he is a monumentally immodest man who has much to be modest about. The shortcomings of Sky, and the cheapness of ITV, will not carry over to the final debate on the Beeb.
Meanwhile, there was the now obligatory slew of post-debate polls, and an average of five of them put Clegg in the lead, not that you would know that from reading the Mail, Maily Telegraph, Express or Sun today: all these supposed pillars of free speech called it for Cameron. In fact, Clegg wasn’t as far in front as last week, but the ICM poll for the Guardian put Cameron level with Brown, and both four points off the leader. Moreover, when the same poll asked who would make the best PM, Brown won.
Which tends to support the view that, for Young Dave, it’s all going a bit Pete Tong. So why is he in this position? He was in the vanguard when it came to wanting these debates, despite leading in the polls. Like Margaret Thatcher he could have played safe and declined to take part. Perhaps he thought that, as he got the better of Pa Broon at PMQs, this would carry through. But these debates are different: at PMQs, it’s a straight Cameron versus Brown, then Clegg versus Brown, exchange. The style is to shorter, one or two line, thrusts at the opponent. It doesn’t get bogged down in detail.
But the Leaders’ Debates do get into the detail, and are a three way discussion: they are far more structured. And there are no supportive MPs cheering on, with no scribbled notes being passed along from shadow cabinet colleagues to help expose flaws and press home points. Cameron is on his own. Yes, he is good at memorising and delivering speeches, but this is not speech making, and, again, it is a world away from standing in front of an enraptured Party conference with as much time as he wants, to say what he wants.And the parties all agreed to the debates and their rules, so none can have any complaints. That includes the Tories. Game on, and Dimbleby Major awaits.