Friday 16 April 2010

Nick Clegg, media star, wins the night and drives the big boys wild

So, who won, and what difference did it make?

Well, I didn’t watch it and I won’t, but what I think wouldn’t matter anyway. I’m only one person and I’ll vote SNP because I want my country back, but what other people thought does matter.

Until yesterday, Labour was telling us that the Conservatives were their only enemy. Clearly in Scotland this was rubbish. We knew it, and they knew it. And despite saying it repeatedly they spent a deal of their time badmouthing the SNP, the party that was an irrelevance... weird people!

Now though, a new enemy has emerged and, according to The Times, they are about to be hit with the “big guns”. Suddenly the Lib-Dems are the only enemy in town. It’s confusing. Especially when the real only enemy in town is neither of them.

Nick Clegg

Who would have thought it? The consensus is that Nick Clegg won hands down. Ok, he’s still not going to be the next Prime Minister, but 61% of the Times poll named him as winner, and a poll by ITV/ComRes put Liberal Democrat support at 35%, up 14%, to the Tories on 36% and Labour on 27%. The big boys are worried. Paddy Ashcroft describes it as a “game changer”.

America has noticed. Much has been made of the introduction of American-style Presidential debate, which many here feel is inappropriate in a parliamentary democracy and of course in a quasi federal set up like ours, but our copying of their style has raised interest that would not normally have been there in a dull old UK election. This morning Clegg is the darling of the serious American press. The New York Times, America’s newspaper of record was fulsome in its praise.

The Lib-Dems are boosted beyond measure. Of course they have this young, handsome, relatively charismatic lad, up against Eton smoothie, whose expensive education has certainly brought him gravitas, and the tired old bad tempered and petty spiteful Scot who sold their gold off cheap, wrecked their pensions, under-regulated their banks so that no one could call him a “socialist” thus wrecking the economy, and underfunded their troops, causing unnecessary deaths. Hard choice.

The criticism of Clegg is of course that he can say whatever he wants. He’s never going to have to put it into practice. But, some people are starting to wonder if he hasn’t got the ideas. We do need to break up the banks; we do need to NOT buy Trident; we shouldn’t levy income tax on people earning £6,500, a subsistence existence; local income tax is fairer than council tax, retirement pensions should be decent, etc etc...

And of course no-one wanted to upset Nick too much last night; they might need him onside to help form the next government.... But no one saw him equalising with front runners. Brown and Cameron must curse the day they agreed that he could join in the debate.

Here are some thoughts from our own Alistair Cooke on the subject (thanks Danny).

American presidential politics in some ways could hardly be more different from the British parliamentary system. American presidents, being independently elected from the Congress, may cruise into office in a way that often seems somewhat disconnected from the party politics that control Congress. Presidents are chosen by the voters’ perception of their personality and leadership qualities. Party labels have an effect to be sure, but that’s certainly not what makes someone a president.

This fundamental nature of the American presidency was solidified in the age of television with the first face-to-face encounter between two presidential candidates during the election of 1960. Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy met in Chicago for their first debate. Dwight Eisenhower’s Vice President Nixon, clearly the more experienced of the two men, was simply not ready for prime time TV, compared with the grace and style of JFK. Appearing haggard and nervous, and having refused television makeup, Nixon looked and acted simply awful before the cameras. He turned in better performances in the later debates, but the damage was done. In one of the closest elections of modern times, JFK prevailed, and the televised presidential debate has been an enduring feature of American political life for 50 years.

While it may not be immediately clear what the face to face confrontation between UK party leaders will accomplish for them in the party-dominated parliamentary system, the qualities of personality which are central to the American presidential system are in evidence. American media appear to have identified Nick Clegg as something of a political “star” as Tris mentions above. There may be little regard or understanding of the British political issues here, but it really doesn’t matter all that much in American style presidential politics. John F. Kennedy had charisma and Richard Nixon didn’t. The early returns seem to be awarding the charisma prize to Nick Clegg. Now if he could only be ELECTED Prime Minister.


  1. Will it translate to votes though? I have my doubts it wasn't a particularly edifying spectacle for any of them Brown came across as marginally human for once, Cameron kept to his lines and Clegg looked relaxed, but then again he had nothing to lose as he wont be PM barring a miracle anyway. It was just 3 snake-oil salesmen trying to out do each other and the viewing figures showed it as no grabbing the public interest.

  2. "...we do need to NOT buy Trident;"

    Quite true but you've always got to be careful with the Lib-Dems and their weasel words.

    In their manifesto it says,
    "Rule out the like-for-like replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system. At a cost of £100 billion over a lifetime it is unaffordable, and Britain’s security would be better served by alternatives. We support multilateral nuclear disarmament and will ensure that the UK plays a proactive role in the arms reduction talks starting later this year."

    What they actually say is that the UK should keep nuclear weapons till everyone disarms and though they do question Trident it's only as a particular delivery system. If the UK stays nuclear then there's got to have some form of appropriate delivery system to get the bombs onto the bad guys which actually works or else it's pointless to keep them. Keeping the bombs and an alternative delivery system will still incur a huge cost.

    The difference between the Lib-Dems and the SNP is clear.

    The SNP: No nuclear weapons and their costs.

    The Lib-Dems: A (relatively) cheaper delivery system for the bombs.

    The airtime and exposure all three candidates got in Scotland last night was extensive so I hope there is a strategy behind the SNP's decision not to legally challenge the broadcast of the debates. What often counts is not policy but exposure.

  3. Oops, typo:

    "If the UK stays nuclear then there's got to be some form..."

  4. No I doubt it, QM. Not dramatically like the figures suggest, and because of the cock-eyed system of voting they would end up with fewer seats that Labour anyway, despite having 10% more votes. Ain't democracy grand?

    Of course the momentum won’t stay up. Polls tomorrow will show a lessening of support... and so on. But Brown and Cameron have to face him again next week with his confidence boosted. Will be live up to expectations? Will he slip up and blow it? Has he peaked too early?

    I was told that Cameron has flown in advisors on Presidential debates from America at huge cost to advise him; Brown of course has no money. Even old Lord Sir Alan ‘s money will not Pay for that.

    But you can bet that the two other parties and their pet journalists at the various papers will be out looking for something they can pin on him. Even something little that they can blow up a few days before the election, even if it’s not true and they have to retract later...

    ...or am I just too cynical?

    Nope, I don’t think so.

    At the end of the day when it comes to the tv debates they have to be them, and they are exactly as you describe them. Nick isn’t going to be PM, so as you say, his policies aren’t going to be put into practice per se, but if he can garner enough votes he might be in coalition. He has everything to fight for.

    Frankly of the three, I personally think he’s miles ahead.

  5. Yeah Doug, I see your point.

    Clearly I want complete removal from our soil of weapons of mass destruction. We killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis because we thought they had them, without the UN’s say so. Why would not another country decide to kill hundreds of thousands of Scots without t the permission of the UN because we DO have them?

    Other small and poor European nations don’t have them and yet are perfectly safe.

    Anyway, the pros and cons of them are for another day and I digress, not for the first time!!.

    As you lay it out the difference is clear.

    I wasn’t advocating in any way that the Liberal policies were right, just that they were better than the other two parties who both seem determined to spend 1/5th of the money we need to haul back in extra taxation, on weapons we can only use with America’s permission, and we couldn’t use in any case against the kind of enemy we now have. Madness when you are solvent. Beyond belief when you are broke.

    If I lived in England, I would vote for the Liberals. I live in Scotland and I’ll vote for my country, for champions to get it back for me.

  6. At least the big two are honest about their desire to keep Britain nuclear.

    If you actually think through the Lib-Dems' stance it doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

    The only launch system for nuclear weapons that makes sense is a sub-sea one. If you have silos or bombers, especially when you're not the size of China, Russia or the US, then there is a very good chance that they will be taken out in a first strike and if you are never going to push the button for a first strike the only viable system is to have the missiles on subs which are hidden out to sea and can survive a first strike.

    If you want an alternative to Trident it's got to be a sub based one and I don't know of any alternative off the shelf systems ready to go so it will involve a huge cost in developing a UK one.

    If the Lib-Dems don't go for a sub based system then you don't want to put the silos or air fields for the long range strike aircraft, (which we don't have any of), near populated areas as they will be the first target for Russian/Chinese/French or US nuclear bombs. So you'll put them somewhere empty in the UK with low population can fill in rest.

    The Lib-Dem policy of an "alternative" to the Trident delivery system is a sound bite and nothing else.

  7. Game changer? Nah, not really. I rather agree with the analysis of Janet Daley when she observed three things which have resulted from that TV debate:

    1. It has confirmed Gordon Brown & Labour as a dead man walking.

    2. The polling findings also confirmed that Cameron is seen as the next PM [see the 39% who considered Cameron as appearing the most 'Prime Ministerial' compared to 29% for Gordo and 26% for Clegg]

    3. Clegg and the LibDems have had a boost because they have escaped the same level of policy scrutiny which both Labour & Tory are subject to - as Clegg is not going to be PM.

    So game changer? Nah. Not really, but really good fun.

  8. Ah... right Doug. You sound like you know what you're talking about (which makes a nice change from me LOL). So I bow to your greater knowledge.

    Thanks for the explanations.

  9. The debate was fairly dull, an' if Clegg won it, then it was a narrow win, in that there were nae killer blows nor obvious foot-shootin' moments.

    However, today's papers, thae spurious post-show polls, an' today's TV coverage may be mair important than the debate itsel'. No everybody watched the debate, but a lot mair folk'll know that Clegg won, cos that's what they hear.

    A propos the American angle, it seems tae me that the mair ye take notice o' personalities, the less ye see the policies behind. It explains how Mrs Palin has worked up the presence she has. Well, it disnae fully explain it, but in contrast, here in Britain, ah couldnae really see Palin as anythin' other than an EdwinaCurrie/NadineDorries/AnnClywd/ClaireShort type o' politics.

    Y'know what ah mean. Barkin' fae the sidelines.

  10. Aye, yer right Dean.

    Everyone has made different things of it. But everyone agrees that Brown's gubbed!

  11. Another pearl of wisom from our Sophia.

    You're right. About 9 million are supposed to have watched it, although I hear that they had predicted 22 million would... huh!

    But 40 million will know that Clegg was the winner for whatever reason. Maybe his mum shone his shoes up all special!!

  12. Tris....In the infinitely nuanced world of so-called presidential style debates, the declared "winner" is so often more a matter of style than substance. It occurred to me that Cameron had a way of looking more annoyed than interested as he listened to the others speak. Maybe that's just him....not so obvious in the world of PMQ's. Perhaps the consultants will work with him on facial expression.

    As for Gordon, he seemed no worse than usual....and in any case, quite beyond any possible help from media consultants.

    Clegg won the day with that casual hand in the pocket....and he never seemed annoyed about being on the stage.

    (George Bush the elder was thought to lose one of his debates with Bill Clinton when he glanced at his wristwatch, as if to say "will this EVER be over?")

  13. I think too, that as Doug has pointed out, it's what's behind the policies that matters; not what the policies actually say.

    As someone pointed out the other day, who can argue with a slogan like "A fairer society for all" or "A health service that meets the needs of the patients"? If you think about it, no one could possibly go into the election with slogans that siad, " a less fair society" or "a health service that meets the needs of the managers"...although sadly that's what we end up with!

  14. Ha ha Danny... You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

    I suspect Mr C's expensive consultants will teach him how to try to look as if he's interested in what the other lot is banging on about.

    Brown has tried with image consultants, but he always seems to look angry and bored and when he smiles he just looks scary.

    He's a lost cause.

    I'm rather suspicious of someone who needs a consultant to tell him how to behave... My mum taught me that.

  15. A bit like the New York Times sayin' "Aw the news that's fit tae print" oan its banner.

    Ah want tae see a paper that carries aw the news that's NO fit tae print. Much better read that.

  16. There's the Daily Star, and the Sport if they still do it... then there's the Sun and the News of the World... Goodness me Sophia, your spoilt for choice....

  17. And Tris.....As for Gordon's scary smiles, it would help him if his smiles even came in the right when something funny happens.

  18. Nah Danny... they come when he remembers them... when he's bored or there's a lull in the converstation...

    Completely loopy!

  19. Nothing's funny in Gordo's world

  20. As for the Liberal Democrats, this is an extract from their constitution:

    "We believe that sovereignty rests with the people and that authority in a democracy derives from the people. We therefore acknowledge their right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs..."

    Except for Scotland, apparently.

  21. It was announced that there will be televised events in Scotland and Northern Ireland next Tuesday night. In Scotland, SNP and the other party leaders in Edinburgh I suppose.

    BTW, I noticed that Clegg, Cameron, and Brown wore ties with colors that matched the yellow, blue, and red stripes in the set design. Party colors?

  22. Yes Danny: Labour is red, Tory blue (the opposite of you guys really) and Liberals are yellow.

    It's confusing because SBP is yellow and black.

    It may be Glasgow or Edinburgh Danny. That will be worth watching. But none of them can really talk about the issues that will be decided in the Westminster paliament. Still at least it does reaise out profile and get Scotlands's voice heard. Of course the other three parties will have theirs raised yet again, somewhat diminishing the argument for fair representation time wise of the parties.

  23. Aye Anon. Except when it might prove that the people might want something that THEY don't.

    It's the oil you know. They are all happy enough for Wales to have a referendum, albeit on more powers rather than independence. But Wales doesn't have oil. (Not that we won't share it with you Celtic cousins.)

    A propos of which I note that Ireland may be about to come into some oil money. Eat crow Jim Murphy.

  24. Almost Danny, but no quite. Cameron wore blue, cos he's a Tory. Clegg wore yellow cos he's a Liberal. So far so good.

    Broon wore a pale pink tie, tae signify just how much he an' Tony Blair hae sucked the red oot o' the Red Flag.

    Watered doon tie, watered doon policies, an' a watered doon philosophy.

  25. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ... nice one Sophia

  26. I didn't think that Brown's tie seemed quite right Sophia. I just didn't know why.

  27. Worse than that tho, oan Question Time last night everybody except wee Shami Chakrabarti was wearin' a red tie.

    Ye used tae know where ye were just by lookin' at a man's tie. And his shoes, an' his shirt collar, an' how well his suit fitted roond his... ah'm gettin' cairrit awa wi' masel again, sorry. Noo it's a free-fer-aw an' ye dinnae ken whaur ye are.

  28. You'd better clam down Sophia. You know it's not good for you.

    I never wear a tie....

  29. Aye Tris the oil
    There is oil off the Irish coast it is monitored from Aberdean its been drilled and capped.
    Oh and by the way north sea oil has peaked. !!! only the Scots could be so comprehensibly mugged so often, your great grand children will still be swimmin in the stuff.
    Will they have been mugged. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  30. Nah, we know it's there. We will have it in the end....

  31. Gordon should have known better and not acceded to the debate at all. It did him no good, he came last. Without his wife there to make him look human he should bear in mind the old adage about not making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. He looked no better or worse than he usually does. In short a grumpy, jowly, pompous old liar. Cameron looked slick and polished but that is all as he stuck to the script. So Nick won and suddenly it’s no longer a two horse race (not that it ever was in Scotland). You want a bet that both the Tories and Labour will be digging for dirt on the Lib Dems now. All great fun and all to play for.

  32. A yougov poll also has the Lib/Dems in second place and Labour in 3rd place but ironically Labour would still emerge as the largest party in terms of seats.

    Get ready folks for a Lab/Lib coalition and the much muted proportional representation which the Libs have been shouting for!

  33. Munguin,

    I tell you Clegg and the Libbies will cause major problems for us if we fail to take our 20-25 odd LibDem held targets in Devonshire & Devon.

    But this is hardly a anything other than a two horse race. Vote Tory or Labour, any other vote..due to our constitution...means your wasting your vote. A horrible, and sad regressive fact.

  34. Dean, I'm very sorry if I can't either sympathise or agree with you there. I think it's great if the Lib Dems run a coach and horses through your party-sorry!

    Come on England vote Lib Dem!

  35. It seems to have put them on the map. As Allan says, they would still be the third party, because we have FPTP, but a bigger LD presence in the House would not do us any harm.

    Both Thatcher and Brown have spoken about the need for STRONG government without which we risk not being able to take the country forward, but we have had years of strong government with large majorities and look where we are.

    Ok. It's not perfect having minority government as we have in Scotland, because the other parties, and most notably Labour, play politics with it to wreck legislation, but that's just poor, third rate politicians. Other countries (Germany for example) manage very nicely with coalition government.