The Futility Monster

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Posts Tagged ‘Gordon Brown’

It’s All In The Timing

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 24, 2010 @ 11:47

Yes. It is.

To me, the beauty of the American political system is in its enforced renewal. Every two years, the populist House has to be re-mandated. It is this very nature that makes it populist. Meanwhile, their ultimate leader and national figurehead, the President, gets a little longer, but is not allowed to stick around for more than eight years, lest he (not yet a she) start to get ideas above his station, and become a little too attached to the trappings of office.

There aren’t many other Western political systems that have such rigorous time and term limits on everything. The rest of us, especially Westminster inspired systems, have a lot more flexibility regarding the calling of elections. And that’s where the problem begins.

Take Australia. In January, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd looked in an extremely powerful position. The opposition had just replaced its leader, in a fractious contest that split the party down the middle. His personal approval ratings were sky high. The opposition controlled Senate had just blocked a key plank of his legislation – environmental regulation – for the second time. This opened the door for Rudd to engage in some constitutional jiggery-pokery: a “double dissolution” election, which, most probably, would have resulted in a sweeping Labour victory in both chambers of the Parliament.

Instead, he decides to tough it out. And then sees everything go wrong, getting chucked out and replaced by Julia Gillard.

Julia Gillard doesn’t want to repeat Rudd’s mistake. While the polls see her arrival as positive, and the Labor Party improves its standing, she decides to seize upon the honeymoon and go straight to that election. The net result: Labor on the brink, courtesy of a terrible, back-biting campaign, and an opposition that had had eight months to prepare for this very moment.

Then there’s Gordon Brown: clinging on by his fingernails till the very last moment. If only he’d gone straight away, like so many commentators (including me) thought he should. His first job, after accepting the invitation of the Queen to be the Prime Minister, should have been to say, “And now I’d like an election to mandate this change”. He didn’t. He didn’t want to be one of the shortest ever PMs. And yet all the omens were good for them. Tories still not ready. Old election boundaries. Honeymoon period. The rest is history.

Recent evidence seems to be that politicians are not very good at choosing the timing of elections. They either worry that they’re about to sign their own death warrant, or are hopelessly optimistic about what’s lurking around the corner.

Since we should only trust politicians as much as is necessary, we should do them all a favour and back the idea of fixed election dates. Let’s take the stress off them, and in return, remove a major element of political fiddling from the system.

Though I still think five years is too long…


Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Would Brown Have Stayed Labour Leader Anyway?

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 12, 2010 @ 09:00

There are so many good photos of Peter Mandelson. Let's hope he returns some day...

The Sunday newspaper story that got the most headlines over the weekend was the serialisation of Peter Mandelson’s book in the Sunday Times, and the bit that’s got the most coverage is the apparent “revelation” that Clegg asked Brown to stand aside.

As Mike Smithson has pointed out, none of this is much of a surprise. It had been rumoured and speculated for a long time that should the election result be inconclusive, amidst a perception of Labour taking a good beating, Brown, as sitting PM, would have to take the flak for it. And yes, even this humble author wrote about it too.

Brown did try to say he’d go on and on, but it was never going to happen.

I remember some arguing that it was hardly the Lib Dems place to dictate who the Labour leader was in these post-election negotiations. After all, the Lib Dems had hardly had a successful election result either. Clegg’s hand should not have been strengthened, yet he still managed to play it in such a manner that Brown felt compelled to step aside.

The most intriguing thing is that Brown was going to quit later rather than sooner in the event of a Lib-Lab coalition. Remember that statement saying he would be going and Labour should put in place a timetable of events, and he would be caretaker leader in the interim? Only to be followed a day later with his immediate resignation from everything…

Something happened in those 24 hours that made him see the writing on the wall. I guess we’ll never know for sure, but in any event whoever made him see the light should have our thanks. Perhaps that’s what Mandelson should be revealing instead?

Labour are in a sorry state at the moment anyway, but if Brown had still been leading the party right now, while the leadership contenders bickered over his legacy, and constantly had to skirt around the issue of whether they “supported” him, it would have made everything rather surreal.

In summary then, what we have is the Sunday Times telling us about something that most people speculated was going to happen, and then actually did. We also probably had the good fortune not to suffer the bizarre instance of a Lib-Lab coalition with a temporary PM, followed by another unelected PM; and a Labour leadership election stifled by power, which would have resulted in an even more boring campaign than the current one.

Brown was going, one way or another. The idea that he could have stayed any longer than he did is just untenable.

The Sunday Time is gonna have to feature something a little better than this if they want people to stump up the cash. Surely the Dark Lord has better anecdotes to share?

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Which Way To Turn?

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 11, 2010 @ 11:07

Executive summary: In a move that would shock most of the people who know me, I have no choice but to back the LDs into a coalition with the Tories. No other option is tenable, and coalition is the best way to achieve LD policies. Full thinking follows…

The incredible developments of yesterday have combined to produce a truly astonishing moment in British politics. The right went into synthetic rage when they realised that Nick Clegg had the sheer audicity of negotiating with another party. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown noticed the rather large writing on the wall that had been there since October 2007, and offered to fall on his sword.

Elsewhere, Nick Clegg got caught in a classic bind. Which way does he go?

I had been speculating for a while that something was amiss. It was clear that Mandy et al were telling the Lib Dems in secret backchannels that Brown would depart to smooth any transition. The LDs were clearly listening, but wanted to show the Conservatives the courtesy of concluding their negotiations first. That the Tories should be “shocked” that a horse-trade was soon to follow either shows their stunning naivety or breathtaking arrogance.

Either way, I’m certain the LDs and the Tories thought they’d finished the negotations yesterday. David Laws and his negotiating team were ready to get the deal approved by his fellow MPs, and then it was to be concluded in the Federal Executive later that day. The tenor of the coverage was that the deal was inevitable.

Instead, David Laws comes out and claims he has been asked to seek “clarification”. You bet he was. There was obviously some concern amongst the parliamentary party that the deal – for confidence and supply – was imprecise. They must also have realised that it was time to talk to Labour, and see what extra they could get from the Tories. That’s what negotiation is all about.

The path was then clear for Gordon to go public, and the dual talks to begin. jumped the shark. I’ve never seen such vitriol, and such panic. All of a sudden, the Tories’ ascent to power was in jeopardy.

Open negotiations will now begin with both sides. That is right, and it is fair.

But the stakes are now extremely high.

It’s clear that Gordon Brown knows only a coalition will do. He said so yesterday. And the Tories have made their so-called “final” offer (I’ll bet you it’s not) – but the price will be a formal coalition, embracing the LDs so tight that their blood supply will be in serious jeopardy.

None of this was on the table a couple of days ago. The LDs were going to let a minority Tory administration form, and in return get some policies through. Politically, that was the right option. It would allow the LDs to survive. But in terms of delivering policies, it wasn’t.

The LDs now have the unenviable choice. Not supporting either party is no longer an option. It would be seen as extremely weak and indecisive after spending so long negotiating with them. It would also allow people to claim that this is somehow a disaster of PR (even though it’s under FPTP) because apparently negotiating and taking a little time over a new government is a failure.

The real killer, though, is that when faced with the chance of power, the LDs refused it. Then we’d get a run down of the old classics like: “You don’t know what you stand for!” and “What is the point of the Liberal Democrats?”

There are now just two options. A coalition with Labour, or a coalition with the Conservatives?

In terms of policy, there is only one answer. Labour. They will clearly be able to offer way more of the Lib Dem agenda because their situation is more desperate. They want to cling to power and will do anything to achieve it. A coalition with Labour may be the only chance ever the Liberal Democrats will get to push for the Single Transferable Vote and all manner of other reforms that the Tories could never support.

But realistically, a coalition with Labour would be a disaster. The waning power of the papers means that we could safely ignore their rancid rubbish. But it would nevertheless create days of hysteria about the “undemocratic” outcome of a coalition between two parties with more than a majority of support across all of the UK, including England. That’s not a problem.

The real issue is the fact that Labour cannot deliver their promises. A new leader could not be trusted. Neither could the rainbow of others. The fractious Labour Party is split a multitude of ways on the reform options. The party is ill-disciplined. It will not survive more than a year. Perhaps it doesn’t need to if STV is delivered quickly.

But it’s just not tenable. Another new PM with no election?

I don’t buy it. Not in this age with the presidentialisation of politics.

The Liberal Democrats have no choice but to form a coalition with the Conservatives. The reaction from the left of the party – a faction in which I count myself – will be tough to bear. But the LDs have negotiated so well that there is enough of our agenda in play. We can try to reassure Labour voters, through, hopefully, our record in office, that it was the right thing for the country, as it will tame the worst excesses of the Tory government we could so very nearly have had.

If it can survive in office for at least two years, it will allow the electorate time to reflect more on us with the benefit of hindsight. Perhaps we won’t be punished so harshly then.

This has to be wrapped up today. Though it is sensible to negotiate with all sides, we have done what we needed to, and that was force the Tories to up their game. Now we’ve done that, it’s time to look decisive, accept the new position, and avoid poisoning what is going to be our crucial relationship with the Tories before the government has even got underway.

This turned into an essay, but it’s because there are so many points to consider. It’s the most difficult decision the LDs will probably ever make. But in reality now, there can only be one outcome.

Good work, Nick. But don’t mess it up.

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Paxman v Brown

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 30, 2010 @ 21:26

Poor bugger...

In the final chapter of this series (Paxman v Clegg; Paxman v Cameron), Gordon Brown finally decided he would grace Jeremy Paxman with his presence. At the very least, these interviews have a bit more substance to them for wonks like me, and won’t get spun as to “who won”.

Overall, Brown gave a good account of himself. He was stubborn as hell. He had an answer to every single question, and they were almost all delivered without a moment’s pause or hesitation. There was no stuttering, no thoughtfulness. Just a steamroller through every issue.

First thing to say though is that he looks quite rough. This election is clearly taking it out of him. He seems to have aged noticeably, and even his voice, that dreaded, unforgiving monotone, sounded tired.

Because Brown is the only politician in government, however, he is the only one who has a 13 year record to defend. That’s a tall order, especially compared to the newness of Cameron and Clegg. As a result, Paxman did his level best to take every aspect of Gordon Brown’s record and pin the blame to Brown at every turn.

It was like a history seminar. Gordon Brown, the old and wise professor, correcting the errant and wayward student for daring to question his version of events. “My historical record is accurate”, insisted Professor Brown. Paxman ducked and dived, hurling shit at every opportunity. Expenses! Banking! Scandals! Immigration! Lack of mandates! Boom and bust! Iraq!

And then he finished with a cruel blow… with words to this effect:

“Why do people dislike you?”

But to give Brown his due, he answered them all, even the nasty attack on his personality, even making Jeremy Paxman laugh with his reply. But as for the policy, Brown is, of course, not correct to say that no one could have seen the disaster heading towards us in the banking sector. After all, a certain politician named Vince Cable warned us all about it for several years beforehand…

Brown, however, is just too abstract. He is a details man in a big picture world. He has all the facts and figures (at least, his versions of them) at his disposal in order to make a decent argument. An academic would love his essays.

Sadly for him, the electorate aren’t academics. He fails to make his logic into a tangible, touchy-feely, and even emotional case for governing. He just cannot do it. Mean people suggest it might be a form of autism. Even Jeremy Paxman hinted at it by asking why Brown struggles to relate to people (see the historical record, passim). Brown dismissed it, of course, but the charge is there.

Brown did eat his humble pie over “Bigotgate”, but Paxo kept on stuffing him by turning the debate fully to the issue of immigration, and spent five minutes accusing him of having no mandate for the amount of it this country has seen. A very difficult accusation for him indeed, but Brown blustered through. He has done that for over 10 years anyway, so he’s pretty good at it by now…

The biggest thing I take from the interview, though, is Brown’s utter determination to go right on to the bitter end. He is still supremely confident of his abilities, and has complete bloody-minded certainty of his convictions, even though the evidence over the years is of a man who has changed his position time after time to put him on the winning side.

And while it appears that there’s no one in the Labour Party who’s prepared to tell him that the Emperor really isn’t wearing any clothes, he will continue to do it until he’s ground Labour into the dust.

Full marks to him for his sheer brass neck in the interview. Full marks for playing up his experience and belief that he can keep saving Britain. Full marks for using it instead of the way other politicians play the charisma card.

But, these days, you just can’t get away with it.

Sorry, Gordon. Your number’s up.

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Third Election Debate: Wordled And Numbered

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 30, 2010 @ 10:25

Time for our final instalment of fun – with the third debate transcript this time. Before I begin, if you’re really into this stuff, you might want to look at my equivalent post from the first debate, and the second debate, for comparative purposes.

After calling this debate for Cameron last night, that impression has only been confirmed by the little exercise that follows. Executive summary: Cameron was less verbose, and hence had to be slower, more dignified… more prime ministerial.

Here go the Wordles…

Gordon Brown

Nick Clegg

David Cameron

I’ve been doing this long enough now to know that these guys are pretty robotic when it comes to the language they use. Cameron’s message is all about “people” – and it has featured prominently in all three of his Wordles. His other favourite word appears to be “need” – in the sense that “we need” to do X, or we need noun. It’s typical opposition talk: highlighting what he would do differently.

He also continues his trend for the word “actually” – an everyday word we all use – and in this final debate took the time to hammer on the word “government”, something he hadn’t previously done to this extent. Getting home his message about the end of this government and its failure, I suspect.

Nick Clegg’s Wordles, unlike David Cameron’s however, show more of an evolution across the series. Nick’s favourite word across the three was “think”, which seemed to work well in the first debate, but perhaps it got tired in the subsequent two. But in this debate, his “think” was outshone by “people”. Not good at all, especially as it’s clearly what Cameron was already doing. In fact, as the debates have progressed, Nick’s use of “think” declined as his use of “people” increased. It meant he lost his distinctiveness.

Nick’s keenness for talking about tax in this debate cannot have been an accident. While the questions gave him the opportunity, and there was much talk about “tax credits”, it was clearly designed to get the message through on the £10,000 personal allowance. That is sensible, as it is a well received policy, and if it has stuck in some viewers minds, perhaps it may be his saving grace from a disappointing performance.

Nick has also let himself down by getting too stuck in. It was illustrated in his “yes or no?” exchange with David Cameron on immigration. The electorate don’t like it. It smacked of more of the same. I highlighted this last time:

  • Debate 1 : “David” – 5 times; “Gordon” – 5 times
  • Debate 2: “David” – 14 times; “Gordon” – 18 times
  • Debate 3: “David” – 16 times; “Gordon” –  14 times

His excuse may be that he was largely ignored in the first debate. But most of it is in his hands. He actively chose to challenge the others. Time and time again, those wiggly lines show it invariably reflects badly on the attacker.

As for Gordon Brown, his decision to attack David Cameron is reflected in the Wordle by the prominence of it. He referred to “David” 31 times and “Nick” just 11. A remarkable reversal from the first debate, where he referred to them equally (11 times), and, as we all know, most of those referrals to Nick were positive. Again, this must be deliberate.

Gordon Brown went negative on everyone yesterday. “risk” “recovery” “inheritance” “cut”… the messaging was clear and coherent. Either his training worked, or the distraction of yesterday led to a slightly less well-prepared Gordon Brown, who went back to good old Labour instincts: attack the Tories for being the party of the rich. He was on message, but it just doesn’t seem to capture the electorate’s imagination. Like I said, negativity doesn’t really work. Or in this case, maybe it’s because of the messenger…

Moving on…

Third Debate: Vital Statistics
Gordon Brown David Cameron Nick Clegg
Words 5216 5087 5350
Sentences 256 295 283
Words per sentence 20.3 17.2 18.9
Flesch Reading Ease 60.8 68.7 67.5
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 9.8 7.9 8.5

Out of the three debate’s statistics, this one is the most interesting. The main reason is that Nick Clegg showed that old habits die hard. Too many words. Too much waffle. When you consider that they all must have roughly got the same time to speak, to chuck in an extra 300 words over Cameron must mean Nick Clegg spoke faster.

And yet, if you put it into the context of the other two debates, this was the least Nick Clegg spoke (1: 5476; 2: 5940). The problem is that it doesn’t matter in absolute terms. It’s only the comparison on the night between the three. And I did get the impression that Nick wasn’t as disciplined, and as focused as he had been in the previous two. That is borne out by the numbers.

David Cameron, instead, shows how he has steadily grasped the debate format. Shorter sentences – the shortest by far out of all nine transcripts (3 each per debate, of course) – and always speaking at an easier to understand level.

Especially in contrast to Gordon Brown. His longer sentences and penchant for multi-syllabic words like “inheritance”, “Conservatives” and “manufacturing” are responsible for nearly getting a 10 in the grade level, by far the highest out of all the nine transcripts, and a big rise on last week. Maybe that’s why despite his punchier performance, he lost people in the detail. But that’s Gordon Brown all over: a details man in a big picture world.

There’s so much more that could be done with these numbers, but that’s me for the day. I could draw some graphs comparing all these numbers side by side across the three debates, but why bother? No one’s reading anyway.

Instead, as per tradition, we finish with the moderator’s Wordle. Mr David Dimbleby:

David Dimbleby

Just look at that supreme example of BBC impartiality. Almost every name identical size. Perfect.


Please note my transcripts for each individual are cleaned up, no paragraphs, no line breaks, and no markers for where one part of the debate conversation began or ended. That’s the most useful form for textual analysis, and I share them with you above.

If you do anything else funky with this stuff, please place a link to it in the comments. I’d love to read it.

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Third Debate Post-Mortem

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 29, 2010 @ 23:08

Cameron holding court...

The news is in, and it’s not good.

I thought Nick Clegg had a very strong first third of the debate. He got stuck in, he stood ahead of the other two, and didn’t get bogged down in the partisan bickering. He addressed the questioner. He looked at the camera too. A perfect balance.

Then it all seemed to go wrong.

Make no mistake, Clegg did not slip up during this debate. He was fairly strong, and especially so when the second question about direct taxes was such a gift to him. And I absolutely admire his bold, principled, and utterly correct, stance on the immigrant amnesty.

After that though, it didn’t work so well. His closing statement in particular was very poor. Filled with waffle and an incoherent narrative. And why so many glances at notes during it? He didn’t do that in previous debates. Nerves, perhaps?

Meanwhile, I have to give it Cameron. I disagree with him in a lot of places. And I think he really is a Conservative in every fibre of his being. His is an agenda of extreme individualisation, the continuation of the Thatcher legacy that was only perpetuated by Blair.

But his poise, his political antennae, his soundbites and his narrative were mostly correct tonight. He was shameless in shoe-horning in the Euro in a perfect stroke of attacking his rivals. He bashed Gordon Brown to hell. He patronised Nick Clegg like he didn’t deserve to be playing with the grown-ups. Clegg reacted well, but the damage was already done.

And then his closing statement was much the stronger. Authoritative, stern, clear. He lost points for being caught out frowning too often, but it doesn’t seem to matter any more. He looked a bit greasy too, sometimes a bit too smooth with the way he tried to charm the questioner. I didn’t like it, but it doesn’t wash with me. I think the electorate will.

Gordon Brown, I thought, actually had a decent debate. He was his usual self, bashing through the numbers, playing the experience card time and time again. He should have said “this is no time for a novice” because it would have been appropriate. But he didn’t. He looked very edgy at the beginning, but warmed up, and delivered his worst to Nick Clegg largely by ignoring him.

Brown’s focus was broadly on David Cameron and the “same old Tories”. It, and the inheritance tax line, is his strongest suit. He did his damn hardest to play it. He made the point time and time again, even if it was totally tangential to the question. He’s certainly been trained well.

But it’s too late for him. The electorate has no empathy for him. The few left that do are all Labour supporters anyway.

Overall though, it was quite a boring debate, despite it being the most lively of them all in terms of attack. But maybe that’s what made it boring. It was all too much like the same old politics. Not like the first one, when Clegg looked fresh, new and took the other two apart for being stuck in the past.

Should it be repeated at the next election? Most definitely. It was long overdue, and has reinvigorated political debate in this country. It was filled with substance and character. It needs a little revision, and I just wish the media would reflect the actual content of the debate as well as who “won” it, but it has, broadly, given the politicians a more direct chance to engage with the electorate.

For today though, there was only one winner, and that was David Cameron. A Tory majority is now very much back on the cards.

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Pollwatch: T-Minus 8 Days

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 28, 2010 @ 22:42

As we count down to May 6th, as promised, Monster’s Poll will be going daily. Here goes…


LIB DEMS: 29% (N/C)

LABOUR: 27% (-1%)

Changes based upon last time (Saturday). Sample consists of all polls with mid-point fieldwork dates within the last 10 days, including today (n=30). Includes all British Polling Council registered pollsters. The results above are the median figure for each party.

Not a lot happening, more’s the pity. But these numbers would certainly produce a hung parliament.

What will be the effect of the Gordon Brown gaffe? I suspect very little. In truth, I hope so, because anything less is sheer hypocrisy. He got caught out with a thoughtcrime. Who amongst us hasn’t been rude about someone behind their back?

But then again, my opinion of the electorate is so low that it wouldn’t surprise me if Labour took a knock. Yet, I still think this betrayal of humanity might just let him off the hook. Remember: not flash, just Gordon.

Will the electoral landscape be different tomorrow? Stay tuned to find out…

Posted in Monster's Poll | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Second Election Debate: Wordled And Numbered

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 23, 2010 @ 11:17

Time for some fun with the second debate transcript. Before we begin, might I suggest opening my post from this time last week, because it’s very useful for comparative purposes.

There are a few surprises in store for this week’s word analysis of the debate. Last week we discovered Gordon Brown likes the word “got”, and David Cameron and Nick Clegg like to think. We also found out that Alastair Stewart did a great job of ensuring everyone got the chance to say about the same amount.

But first, the bit that we all enjoy, the Wordles!

Gordon Brown

Nick Clegg

David Cameron

What I found most striking this week compared with last is the fact that clearly some big lessons have been learned. Whilst Gordon Brown still has difficulty telling us what he thinks, he is now a bit more balanced. The similarity between the kind of words being used is also telling: they’re copying each other’s best bits to some degree. And no one did that more than Gordon, stealing Nick Clegg’s best lines from last week on several occasions. Squabbling children?

Starting with Nick Clegg, my first point is that he seemed to deviate from his winning formula from last week: merely setting out his stall. This time, it was more about the people. Not a mistake, but it clearly hasn’t worked as well. If you look at last week, that’s what both Cameron and Brown were doing, and Clegg’s difference from that path worked well. This time , he chose to be much broader, more scattergun, and it has caused his coherent message of “What I think” or “What the Liberal Democrats think” to be diluted. The prominence of the word “change” too clearly shows the Lib Dems have been watching Obama’s debate performances too much.

He also failed by getting too involved in what he would term the old politics. There is some evidence from the wiggly lines, both when I watched last night and from the 2008 US debates, that direct attacks on a person don’t really work, and can reflect badly on you instead. In the first debate, Nick hardly referred to the other leaders. This time, he said the word “Gordon” 18 times, and “David” 14 times (cf. 5 and 5 last time). That was a mistake. The winning formula for him is to ignore their pathetic attempts to bring him down to their level, and rise above it. That’s what I suggested yesterday, and I think that’s borne out here.

As for David Cameron, his performance was much more controlled. Thematically, he did better. Look at the size of the words “make”, “need”, “want” and “country” relative to the others. That has to be deliberate. A very careful strategy to set out the difference his party would make.

But guess what? Cameron learned from Clegg. References to Gordon? 8 (cf. 16 last time). References to Nick. Believe it or not, just 4. It’s such a reversal that it can’t have failed to influence the way the debate proceeded, and it too must have been deliberate. Now David Cameron was the man rising above the other two. His messaging was clearer. He likes the word “actually”. Clichéd, yes. Normal sounding? Most definitely. That’s what Clegg did last week. Cameron stole it from him.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown was still Gordon Brown. He said the ugly words “got” or “get” a stunning 94 times (Clegg: 47; Cameron: 69). He is a clunker in every sense of the word. He implores. He demands. We’ve got to do this. We’ve got to do that. It’s all very authoritarian. And yet, he definitely enriched his speaking this week. He talked about more issues, and had a more balanced approach. That’s not how I remember it; he seemed to repeat himself a lot last night, but the numbers here don’t lie.

To finish, let’s look at what has provided me with the biggest shock…

Second Debate: Vital Statistics
Gordon Brown David Cameron Nick Clegg
Words 6077 5599 5940
Sentences 319 295 299
Words per sentence 19.0 18.9 19.8
Flesch Reading Ease 66.4 69.3 65.9
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 8.7 8.2 8.9

Last week, all three of them managed about 5,500 words. This week, only David Cameron got that. Gordon Brown managed to speak an extra 500. No wonder he got more issues in, being more balanced.

Meanwhile, Nick Clegg also spoke nearly 500 more words, after speaking the least last week (5476). That didn’t work out for him. It allowed him to say too much on some issues. He tried to be more robust, and get more involved. He was, I suppose, responding to the challenges that Brown and Cameron were demanding of him, whereas they largely ignored him last time. Their plan worked, but they dragged Clegg into their bearpit in the process. This week, he did not look and act sufficiently different to the others. He became more of a brawler. Hence the different, less positive, response from the electorate.

Clegg’s sentences also became longer, suggesting he got tied up more by trying to explain himself and complicated ideas. It doesn’t work. The electorate tune out.

David Cameron can feel a little hard done by, having not been given as fair a crack of the whip as the others. Which then makes it all the more remarkable that he did less with more. Verbosity is never rewarded in politics, and Cameron gets the plaudits here.

As last week, they all spoke at roughly the same level, with an almost uniform increase of about 0.4 in the grade level. Maybe the topics this week were more complex, making for slightly longer sentences, and definitely more syllables.

But that’s enough number crunching from me. I could go on, but this is long enough already.

So let’s finish with Adam Boulton’s wordle…

Adam Boulton

He clearly likes thanking people more than Alastair Stewart, anyway.


Please note my transcripts for each individual are cleaned up, no paragraphs, no line breaks, and no markers for where one part of the debate conversation began or ended. That’s the most useful form for textual analysis, and I share them with you above.

If you do anything else funky with this stuff, please place a link to it in the comments. I’d love to read it.

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Second Debate Post-Mortem

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 22, 2010 @ 22:52

Sky definitely had a better set than ITV, but that was the only winner in their debate...

Watching the live poll results coming in on the Angus Reid website has been very illuminating.

I genuinely believe that Nick Clegg won the second debate. Brown was his usual self, never any different. He just does not look comfortable, and bores me to tears. He has no life or vigour. He does not radiate the change the country apparently wants according to opinion polls. He also shamelessly stole winning lines from Nick Clegg from last week. An embarrassment as prime minister. No thanks.

David Cameron was far more aggressive this time. He performed much more strongly, in my opinion. He too was his usual self. It was the Cameron I expected to turn up last week. He is articulate. He has good lines ready at the drop of a hat.

But looking purely at the reaction shots, looking at his behaviour, expressions, mannerisms – all of this, bear in mind, that most voters do – he never seems right. He seems agitated. Angry, even. The furrowed brow. The insincere, patrician tone.

On policy, Cameron and Brown did indeed choose to gang up Clegg. It worked in some respects. Brown had pre-scripted lines to use on Clegg. They’d been planning the Trident attack for a week. It seems, however, they’ve done it in such a way that allowed them to get away with it. It was more subtle and undermining his authority. A little patronising too.

Meanwhile, Clegg didn’t attack the rubbish robustly enough. He allowed Brown to get away with nonsense accusations of anti-Americanism, and when Adam Boulton disgracefully asked a personal question (against the rules) to Nick Clegg, he didn’t take the opportunity to destroy the allegation piece by piece. And he failed to remind everyone that it was the Tories who broke the link between pensions and earnings.

I think, on balance, the three of them all had a decent debate. Clegg hasn’t secured a major victory simply because the others have raised their game to such a level. That is bearing out in the polls. A YouGov one giving it to Cameron (which Sky dutifully gave huge prominence to), a ComRes one giving it to Clegg, and Angus Reid very finely balanced. More will surely follow.

But the biggest loser, tonight, I think was Sky.

The debate itself was more enjoyable this week, and yet the questions were appalling. The ones in the international section were an utter bore. Adam Boulton persisted with the Pope one despite it being a total non-issue. He was far too hands off and allowed too much squabbling, deviation and repetition. And why another question on immigration? Where was the specific question on Trident? Why were the leaders constantly allowed to go on ludicrous tangents without being brought back into line?

And that was what annoyed me. I’m pretty certain that Clegg was the only one who constantly brought the issue back to whatever it was the questioner asked. It was much more sincere, it was much more genuine, and felt like he was trying to engage with them. It felt like he really passionately cared about them, and his enthusiasm for public service was infectious. He finished extremely strongly, making up for a couple of verbal wobbles in the middle.

That doesn’t seem to have got fully across though. The nation, despite polls to the contrary, really does enjoy negativity. It’s clear that Brown and Cameron’s strategy of attacking the Clegg they embraced so strongly last week has had resonance.

But that’s the public for you. Very fickle. You can see that by watching the wiggly lines, which I’ve just done for 15 minutes on ITV! There’s always an immediate spike whenever someone injects a note of humanity into their speech. Either a friendly gesture, a smile, a pause for thought, a reflection, or even using normal turns of phrases.

Cameron will get the plaudits for this debate. He did a much better job, and perhaps for that he deserves the win.

But one thing it has done, is confirm that this is a very wide open race, temper those wild Lib Dem expectations, and maybe give the opportunity to surprise once more in the final bout…

Viewers? 8m maximum. 6m average. Something like that. We’ll see…

UPDATE – 23/4/10: Turns out only 4m people watched it after all. But that just means even more people will rely on the media to tell them “who won”. Bad.

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The Knives Are Out

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 22, 2010 @ 10:11

Adam Boulton looked like an onion even then. Just slightly browner on top.

Today’s handful of newspaper front pages (as seen here) show that the media have had enough of the Clegg love in. What surprises me is why it took so long…

The groundwork is clearly being laid for an assault on everything to do with the Lib Dems. The fact that the Telegraph was desperate enough to go back into its expenses CD demonstrates that fully. And yet, this little gem was about the best they could do. A few hundred pounds per month from a few private donors, all fully declared.

Desperate stuff. And, if it’s played wrongly, could easily be used by the Lib Dems as a sign of how the “establishment” from the “old politics” is ganging up on them. Mr Cameron’s friends, Mr Murdoch, and Alistair Campbell’s old boys all getting their favours called in by their masters in order to preserve the corrupt and cozy establishment which is feeling threatened by the surge of the wave of change heading its way.

I should be a political strategist. That one’s for you, Nick, and I hope you use it well. No charge, this time.

So bollocks to the media and their “have become the subject of intense scrutiny” lies, as if they are the neutral third parties bravely reporting the scrutiny of others.

And bollocks to the other parties too.

But I think they’re going to be much more clever.

Amidst the endless obsession with some volcanic ash, you may not have realised that tonight is the second Prime Ministerial Debate. Another 90 minutes of fun is headed our way.

Will Brown and Cameron get the knives out for Clegg?

They can’t. Only one of them will be able to. If they both do, Clegg will once more play the blinder he did last week: indict them all in an establishment conspiracy.

But which will go first? Whoever gets the luck of starting will surely make it clear from the outset that Clegg is not the change the country needs, and then yadda-yadda about a “dangerous” plan to scrap Trident, and a love for all things European.

Cameron has to attack, to rescue his damaged reputation from last week. He has to rescue his severely dented image, which last week was exposed by him standing there, absorbing all attacks and not dishing any out. His authority took a knock. He will be out to correct that.

Brown, instead, will throw in some sly digs at Clegg, which may be more successful. After all, he won’t want to get his hands too dirty in the mud-slinging. He will want to look… well, Prime Ministerial. And if Clegg overreacts by playing the establishment conspiracy hand too early, especially if Brown isn’t explicit or is very polite about it, it might weaken his standing as a level-headed, composed leader.

There are severe dangers for a front runner: all the focus is on you, and you have to live up to those expectations. It’s why David Cameron struggled so much last week.

But fortune is on Clegg’s side. The debate topic: international affairs, so the silly media agenda on expenses is out of order. Opportunity: Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. Strengths: Blair and Brown’s performances at Chilcot; a debate format that will only allow broad questions; Adam Boulton as moderator will not be able to further media agendas; and Cameron and Brown cannot ask questions of Clegg either

Clegg showed his skill as an underdog last week. Brown has been trying it for weeks, to some degrees of success, but hit his glass ceiling.

If Clegg can show he’s comfortable: by rising above the other two, by sticking up for his point of view, and by once more showing how different he’ll be, and giving another confident, calm performance, he will once more persuade viewers that he’s got what it takes. There’ll be no fireworks, but there’s no need for it. The good work has already been done.

Remember the Obama lesson: the first debate proved he was no bogey-man, but a sober, thoughtful, rational individual. The other two debates did nothing to change that narrative, and the more people looked, the more they liked.

The moral of the story: more of the same please, Nick. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

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