The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘The First Election Debate’

The First Election Debate: Wordled And Numbered

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 17, 2010 @ 10:21

Though I’m terribly excited about last night’s 30% poll rating for the Lib Dems, it worries me that we have peaked too early and will run out of gas before the finish line. I will wait for more polling developments before commenting further…

In the meantime, I’ve had a bit of fun with the debate transcript. For your viewing pleasure, the Wordles of the speeches of the three main party leaders…

Gordon Brown

Nick Clegg

David Cameron

This is genuinely fascinating stuff. Gordon Brown barely ever tells us what he “thinks”, whereas Nick Clegg and David Cameron were always doing it. I can’t believe that this is deliberate, but it would certainly highlight a lack of self-confidence on Gordon’s part.

The fact that Gordon’s favourite word was “got” also says something for his manner of speaking. “Got” is an ugly word to begin with, but to say it 65 times (Clegg: 20; Cameron: 24) is remarkable. It highlights Gordon Brown’s method of continuously imploring other people, agencies or departments to do something. Not entirely convincing after 13 years in office.

Note, too, that Cameron and Brown both referred to each other, and Nick, so many times that it appeared in their top 100 words. Cameron said the word “Gordon” 16 times. Nick Clegg, on the other hand, barely referred to them at all (David: 5; Gordon: 5). This lack of personalising his opponents, dismissing them as representatives of a broken system is very illuminating about how Nick portrayed himself as the outsider.

Feel free to draw your own conclusions and share them in the comments.

Finally, just so we can put to bed any accusations that Clegg got too much coverage in the debate, here are some more statistics…

First Debate: Vital Statistics
Gordon Brown David Cameron Nick Clegg
Words 5588 5560 5476
Sentences 298 302 294
Words per sentence 18.7 18.4 18.6
Flesch Reading Ease 67.0 70.8 66.7
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 8.4 7.9 8.5

These numbers are slightly less exciting, but they do point out that Alastair Stewart was incredibly fair. They were following the rules perfectly behind the scenes, ensuring that Alastair got the balance exactly right. Though there may have been slight variations in time, they all roughly managed to say the same amount of words. Clegg even said slightly less than the others, and yet still is perceived to have won. It’s wot you do with them that counts, remember.

They all speak so the average American 8th grader could understand: roughly 13 or 14 years old. The figures for reading ease also bear that out. That’s no surprise, but probably isn’t all that deliberate either. Most politicians have been doing so all their lives and consequently know no other way of talking to the public. Then again, average speech is never particularly challenging anyway.

For comparative purposes, I stuck one of my academic essays through the grinder, and got a remarkable 15th grade score. 15th grade doesn’t exist, but basically means only academic fools would follow the ludicrously long sentences and mega long words with multiple syllables. Oh, how pretentious I feel now. A 28 word sentence average is enough to drive anyone to despair. That’s why politicians, also trying to explain difficult concepts and get across their views, keep the sentences shorter. That’s why they all got 18 word sentences. Clever buggers.

That’s enough, I think, but let’s finish with just a bit of fun. How did Alastair Stewart do?

Alastair Stewart

Suffice it to say, “MR CAMERON!”, “MR CLEGG!” and “MR BROWN!” should become the catchphrases of the election.

SOURCES

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

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Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Debate Post-Mortem

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 16, 2010 @ 08:57

He's a happy chappy...

Yesterday, I posed three questions, and here are the answers:

  • Will David Cameron Seal The Deal? – NO
  • Can Nick Clegg Justify His Inclusion? – YES
  • Is Gordon Brown Capable Of Fighting Back? – NOT LIKELY

Apart from the BBC (who never take a stance even if it’s staring them in the face), everyone else is unanimous. The Mail called it a “shock victory” for Clegg. The Telegraph, The Times, The Independent, Sky News (and their bizarre voodoo poll), YouGov, ComRes, Populus, Angus Reid… even The Sun grudgingly had to admit it was Nick Clegg, though they quickly commissioned another poll asking “Who would make the best PM?” to restore their David Cameron love fest.

Yesterday I thought Cameron would win, and I thought Clegg could not get a clear victory. That position was wrong. Cameron made a serious tactical error by engaging only with Gordon Brown, arguing and bickering. Cameron reeled out anecdote after anecdote, failing to recognise that many anecdotes do not equal data, and that stories are no substitute for telling us your own vision. He was also a little nervous, a little tetchy, very cautious… and was caught out by the reaction shot time and again.

Cameron was supposed to do exactly what Clegg did. He was supposed to point to Gordon Brown’s wretched record and say that he is the only one who can deliver any sort of change. He was supposed to swat away the Lib Dems as an irrelevance. He was supposed to say that his new Conservative Party can fix the broken Britain.

Cameron’s nervousness at the start meant he took a while to get going. It’s widely acknowledged that he finished much better. He didn’t have a bad night, by any means. He still engaged with the debate well, but didn’t shine as I expected him to. Perhaps he didn’t take enough risks. His body language was definitely a net loser. Labour are spinning it’s because he can’t handle spontaneity, but I disagree with that. Maybe he just wasn’t in the zone. At least we get another two looks to see if there’s form.

As for Brown, probably the less said the better. Expectations were indeed low, and he just about reached them. He was dull, dry, but played to his strongest hand – his experience of government. The result being that he was able to make a case for an old hand on the wheel. However, he made no gaffes, and performed as he normally would in any TV interview: confident, determined, and totally oblivious to reality.

Clegg seized upon these missteps by continuously dismissing the two as the same old politics. They let him get away with that, to some extent, mindful that bashing the Lib Dems could be seen as picking on the smaller party, and that they may rely on them later. They won’t be so coy in the next debate, where Clegg will now be seen as fair game.

Conclusion

Brown is Brown. We know him extremely well by now. As such, he cannot do anything sensational that would ever result in a fightback. David Cameron had the most to lose, and he did suffer a small setback as a result of his below average sparring.

But Clegg clearly did justify his place at the table, was confident and assured, and the format of giving him a fair crack of the whip, and not having to answer questions on hung parliaments, suited his agenda very well.

Winning the first one is by far the biggest prize. The ratings will be much lower for the Sky News one, not just because it’s on a lesser channel, but also because the novelty factor is no longer there. The BBC one will be the next most important one. Clegg can afford to cruise a little in the next one, but Cameron will be out to get him, for sure. A more risk-taking approach from him may even the scores if he can strike the right tone.

One thing alone will prove whether Cameron is a quick learner. Will he copy Clegg’s debate style of looking down the lens more, of addressing particular members of the audience (even by name), and of using gestures to show his separation from “the other two”?

There were no gaffes, no major errors. Which is good, in many ways. It made the debate more about the arguments, and the presentation. And on that score, there was plenty to get stuck into…

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

The First Debate: Liveblog

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 15, 2010 @ 20:33

Joy upon joys! The First EVER Prime Ministerial Debate is upon us. Such a momentous occasion should only be marked with a liveblog. Starting now! (reversed to chronological order for the archives)

2032: Well, we’re running a little late, but no surprise. ITV had to squeeze in the maximum ads in the time they had left. 90 mins of prime time with no ads starts right here!

2033: Overly dramatic string quartet there…

2033: That’s the last time we’ll hear the audience clap. I think…

2034: Clegg seeming confident. Angry frown when he mentioned bankers. Nice start.

2035: Why did Gordon Brown not get an introduction from Alistair Stewart? Brown refusing to look down the camera lens.

2036: Cameron and Clegg both looked into the camera. That’s the right move in these circumstances when you’re addressing the nation. Cameron looking a little nervous.

2037: First subject: immigration. Brown confident, reeling out policies he’s done. Thunderous in his delivery as usual. Sly glance at the lights on his podium; they’ll tell the speaker if they’re going over time.

2039: Not much debate so far. It’s a question and answer session with them virtually ignoring each other’s presence. Clegg trying to refer to his opponents, but will the rules allow a proper debate to break out?

2040: Brown is able to crow about the things he’s done in government to buttress his arguments. It’s reliant on the other two to point out where he’s failed. Are they going to do that? Cameron instead coming back to his own anecdotes.

2042: You couldn’t put a cigarette paper between the three parties on immigration any more. Depressing. Clegg confirming that now everyone loves the anti-immigration bandwagon.

2043: Clegg still the only one trying to strike up a debate. Cameron takes the bait, but it turns into a love in. Interesting reaction shot of Clegg. Brown gets nasty. Much better!

2044: Cameron declines Brown’s argument, and reverts to talking points. Brown starts talking over him. Clegg chooses to respond by addressing the nation down the lens, while Brown and Cameron bicker.

2045: Brown embraces Clegg. Will they gang up on Cameron?

2047: Cameron asked Clegg a question, and then totally ignored him. No eye-contact in the reaction shot. Body language, Mr Cameron!

2049: New subject: burglary. Cameron jumps on the Tony Martin bandwagon. Clegg attacks ID cards. Not a populist argument, but he’s brave enough to take it on. Brown fidgeting in the wide shot. Pay attention, Gordon.

2050: The slow zoom ins as they reply are very irritating.

2051: Cameron going for the liberal line of treating drug addicts rather than putting them in prison. I like it. Clegg still unsure about whether to talk to the audience in the room, or the audience on the sofa.

2052: Clegg sounds like he’s trying to sell Mark Oaten’s “tough liberalism” of 2005. Not much debate happening here though. Ignoring each other, reproducing their own stories and their own narrative. Oh my. Interest waning…

2055: Brown talking in percentages. That’s not the way to win. Brown gets the first laugh from the audience. The rules have been broken!

2056: Brown talking over Cameron. Seemingly enjoying himself. Alistair Stewart has to stop Brown to let Cameron in, who quickly resorts to yet another anecdote. Clegg interjects, actually addressing the other two.

2057: Cameron’s replies are mostly anecdotes. Brown’s are mostly numbers. Brown gets another minor titter, but the last word goes to Cameron. Brown smiling in that eerie way in the background.

2058: At last, a bit more of a major topic. Political reform.

2100: Clegg and Brown both getting on their high horses so far. Righteous indignation. Too late now. Brown stealing Lib Dem policies too.

2101: Cameron looking a litte flushed under those studio lights. But he’s certainly in his stride now. Cameron focusing on political reform that would reduce costs.

2102: Clegg highlighting the hypocrisy of the Tory and Labour parties. Lib Dems are no saints either, but it sounds good right now. Cameron frowning. Brown not paying attention. Clegg laughs incredulously at Brown’s sudden conversion to radical reform.

2103: Cameron’s turn to bash Labour hypocrisy over failure to reform the Lords. Very good. Cameron appealing to the nation’s wallets, time and time again. Now Brown says he’ll cut the cost of politics more than the Tories. The nation is confused.

2105: The leaders are taking too many notes. They look like they’re ignoring each other. Cameron attacks Clegg regarding Michael Brown’s dodgy donation to the Lib Dems. Handbags at nine paces, gents.

2106: Brown bizarrely saying the debate level needs to be raised. There didn’t seem to be a problem before then. Brown still trying to embrace Clegg; Clegg rejecting those advances.

2107: Sounds like a consensus has broken out over the right of recall for MPs. What an unusual place for that to happen.

2108: Clegg got the last word there on political reform. Bashed Brown again over blocking reform. Good finish, I think.

2110: The debate turns to education. Platitudes galore here. This one will be a snore fest. Cameron heading into statistics mode; and then a personal anecdote.

2111: Clegg’s turn. We all want to cut bureaucracy, of course. It never happens. The voters don’t care.

2113: Brown glossing over the government’s lamentable failure in the education system. Hopefully the other two will pick him up on it.

2114: Cameron now turns to discipline. Very Michael Howard, circa 2005. And another anecdote. He’s desperate to paint the picture of broken Britain…

2115: Clegg makes fun of the fact that he can’t ask questions of the other person. Clegg looking confident, actually addressing the questioner now. Looks better that. Cameron turning to the left and right often. Tries a joke, fails. Tries another anecdote. Stop it!

2116: Brown trying to make the issue about cuts in departmental budgets. Cameron takes the bait and rams home the economic messages on NI. Even though it’s about education. Nice.

2117: Cameron is losing the battle of the reaction shot.

2118: Clegg gets another opportunity to smack down the bickering children. He’s doing very well.

2119: Alistair Stewart changes topic, even though it hasn’t changed, because they all started talking about it anyway. It’s the economy, stupid.

2122: Cameron gets the messaging right on the jobs tax. Clegg’s turn, equally on message. And then Brown. The leaders are each very good when they get their chance to make the initial response to the question. The briefings and training have clearly paid off.

2123: I pity the poor floating voter watching this hoping to work out who to vote for.

2124: Clegg takes on the issue of waste. He makes a fair point on the cutting required, but none of the parties are truly honest about the depth of the slashing that needs to be done.

2125: Brown dancing on a pinhead on this issue of waste. He “fears” for the economy if Cameron cuts £6bn this year. It’s hardly going to “wreck” the recovery, Gordon.

2126: Clegg proposing consensual politics about deficit reduction. Cameron refuses Clegg’s plan. Why would he? He wants to do it himself. Why not get all the credit? Cameron embraces Clegg, just slightly. Cameron wants tax cuts, but alas, can’t afford them. Clegg gets another go.

2128: Cameron back to his messaging. Save £1 in £100. Repetition is boring for those of us who hear it day in, day out. But for the millions of normal people, it’s spot on.

2129: Cameron just made the only sentence in the world containing Corus, Logica and Mothercare.

2130: Clegg keeps getting the opportunity to attack the other two after they’ve bickered with each other. Luck is on his side.

2131: New subject: the armed forces.

2132: Clegg gets to attack Trident. Will anyone confront him on that? He’s had an easy ride so far.

2133: Brown takes the opportunity to praise the armed forces. Clegg missed the boat there. Bet you he’s kicking himself.

2134: Cameron now joins the armed forces love in. Clegg turns to anecdotes to attack the poor funding of the British Army.

2135: Brown decides to start answering a question he wasn’t asked. This is a domestic policy debate, isn’t it? Why are we talking about international issues? Well, because Brown has been allowed to get away with it.

2136: Cameron needs to lighten up a little. Brown, naturally, is not able to do that. But Cameron can. He needs to put his positive message across.

2138: Clegg tries to engage the others in debate again, this time over Trident. Cameron gets a chance to talk about it now. Cameron and Brown deploying the classic right-wing argument. Brown playing the PM card. Enjoying the power of his privileged position.

2139: Clegg defending himself on Trident very robustly. But now he appears to have his left hand in his pocket. Impolite, but relaxed. Naughty.

2141: Cameron caught out on the reaction shot again. Shifty leftward glances out the corner of his eyes to Brown.

2142: Subject shifts to healthcare. More platitudes to follow. Very little difference between the parties here. There never is.

2143: Cameron deploys his NHS love argument. With accompanying anecdote, naturally.

2145: Cameron caught frowning again while Brown talks over the reaction shot of Cameron. Cameron’s body language and approach is good when he’s talking. When he’s not…

2147: Brown has not dropped a clanger in the whole debate. No stuttering either. That shouldn’t mean he has done well.

2148: Clegg trying to create a division on healthcare. There is none. Next subject please.

2149: Cameron turns to an anecdote again. I wish I’d been keeping score.

2150: Clegg delivers his closing message early. On tax. Even though we were talking about healthcare. Cameron goads Clegg, but actually plays into his hands. Clegg is then granted another chance to repeat his message by Alistair Stewart!

2153: Final topic is going to be social care for the elderly. A big issue… Cameron gets his message over. Clegg tries again to push the consensual approach. I think, on this subject, it will play well to the audience.

2155: Brown resolutely on message. Clegg frowning at Brown’s phoney agreement with him. Debate fizzling out now. The spinners are on standby.

2156: Cameron gets another anecdote in. Now we’re having a carer lovefest. I’ve seen enough.

2158: This part of the debate is very polite and respectful. Hardly a firey note to end on. Alistair Stewart might have picked a different order for the questions if he had another go. Too much overlap.

2200: Clegg acknowledges that they’ve all been consensual here. Hand still in pocket. Clegg gets the last word, again. He’s been very lucky indeed.

2201: But no luck on the closing statements. Clegg goes first. Staring down the lens, but referencing the audience, and questioners in particular. Good finish, as usual, on the message of “there is an alternative”. Should have tried the four themes of the manifesto though.

2202: Brown seems to have enjoyed the debate, it has to be said. He’s always said he “relishes” the opportunity to debate policy with Cameron, and that seemed to show. He’s not comfortable looking into the camera lens though. Laying down the attacks on Cameron only. Looking forward to the next debate, apparently!

2204: Cameron gets his chance to go for the positive message, at last. Change. Change. Leadership. He did well too, but not relative to the high expectations I had.

2206: And it’s over. Have to say Clegg is the winner. I would say that, but don’t take my word for it. The polling is looking like that too. Though these are very early returns!

2212: Reaction is phenomenal. It’s just like the aftermath of a US presidential debate. This is what we need in British politics.

2215: BBC going for the reaction lines, courtesy of IPSOS MORI. I don’t think they’re the same type as the ones used in US elections though.

2220: ITV chose to ignore the thing that many millions of people watched, on their own channel, which has made history in this election, in favour of a story that affected tens, maybe hundreds of thousands. Crazy.

2227: YouGov, Angus Reid, ComRes all giving it to Clegg. And yet Sky News has a bizarre poll taken after one hour (why?) which gives it to Cameron. Who did your poll, Sky News?

2241: The post-debate spinning is well underway, but there can be no denying it… Clegg was the winner. Cameron underperformed, but was still solid. Brown bored us to tears, but didn’t stumble. A more complete analysis tomorrow…

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , | 24 Comments »

Is Gordon Brown Capable Of Fighting Back?

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 15, 2010 @ 18:00

Better the devil you know... would that attitude win it for him?

Expectations are horrendously low for Gordon Brown as a result of the fact that most of us have known him as a politician for nearly 20 years and have seen his transformation from clunking-fist to hulking-brooder.

In the early 90s, Brown was a fearful opponent to Tory Chancellors. He spun and smeared effectively, and had the ability to steamroll his counterpart with his usual rapid-fire delivery. It worked, and was appropriate for the time. The same was true during his stint as Chancellor, though his ability to dodge questions and leave them to his juniors was well noted.

But as PM, such behaviour is not acceptable. PMs have to cover all issues with great confidence and command the respect of the nation in order to win.

Gordon Brown cannot do that, and it will not change tonight.

What he can do, however, is use those phenomenally low expectations in his favour.

Nobody is expecting Brown to win. No one expects Brown’s rather unnatural, stilted delivery to knock anyone down tonight.

That is then, his greatest strength.

Outperform even slightly, and the country will be pleasantly surprised. Show that he is indeed capable of debating Cameron, by showing, at last, a degree of humility and honesty, and he will reap the rewards. Show that he is a human being by making an emotional connection with the audience. Any topic will do. It might have to be shameless. It might have to be about the loss of his child, especially if Cameron mentions his own trauma.

Some might say that’s the sure fire way to looking crass and insensitive. But if someone else brings it up, the door is open. He probably shouldn’t spontaneously do it, but if they start talking about the NHS, and then about how marvellous it has been for them… one thing can quickly lead to another.

He has the advantage of being the underdog, while still being the Prime Minister. He has the ability to give little nudges of patronisation in Cameron’s direction by, for instance, talking in great detail on a specific part of government that he knows well. If he does that, and Cameron waffles a general response on the topic, Brown will get the chance to deliver his favourite “no time for a novice” line. It will make him look experienced, and Cameron a dangerous, uninformed risk. He should lay a couple of those traps.

Overall though, if he can get through the debate without sounding robotic, and talking with stuttering, stumbling or reeling out tractor production statistics, as well as just make a couple of connections with the audience, he will be able to emerge triumphant. It won’t be the disaster everyone is expecting, and he will gain the momentum going into the second debate (which is on Sky News, and will be lucky to get 1/10th of the viewing figures).

Will he do it, however? No, I don’t think so. He might actually be incapable of all of the above.

And if he flops even more, the game will most definitely be over.

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Can Nick Clegg Justify His Inclusion?

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 15, 2010 @ 16:00

Gotta be a yellow tie tonight though, Nick...

Nick Clegg, in one respect, has already won. Being able to be on the stage despite the fact that he has zero chance of being Prime Minister is a great coup. In some ways though, he deserves it. This is still a parliamentary system, and Clegg is representing Lib Dems up and down the country.

What that says is that he has a much broader weight to bear. While Cameron and Brown can carry their party single handedly, Clegg must do a good job on behalf of all Lib Dem candidates out there. He can’t rely on Vince Cable tonight, though expect his name to appear several times…

In order to win the debate, however, Clegg has a mountain to climb. He must look, sound and act prime ministerial without getting petulant or losing his cool. He has to prove that he is indeed worthy of being on that stage. The key way of doing so is to ram home the Liberal Democrat “four themes” in every single answer. The goal is to make sure the watching audience know exactly what Lib Dems stand for, in order that local campaigns can keep building on that momentum.

He must get the message across that his party wants to do things differently. That is easy, but it’s not so easy to convince the audience you mean it, simply because Cameron will be saying exactly the same thing. He could go on the attack against the whole democratic system of the country, but that would very much make him look like a loose cannon, potentially unstable. Unfit for leadership. I don’t envy him.

I very much expect a measured, dignified, controlled performance from Clegg as a result, one that will set off no fireworks, but do no harm in the credibility stakes. Much like the Paxman interview. It won’t make him the winner, but it will do enough to encourage many people that they can trust the Lib Dems.

How he reacts under cross-examination will be key. Nick Clegg has a tendency to look a bit flustered if the pressure is applied. And if he fluffs any of the classic party message on hung parliaments, he will be in trouble.

A precarious tightrope to walk across, then, but one he can conquer by staying in control and fully balanced.

Clegg already gets his prize for being there. Jeopardising it with a dodgy performance will finish the Lib Dems as a potential credible force for another generation. Seeing it through with a solid, but unremarkable, performance will ensure the visibility bonus will carry forward into the coming weeks.

A tough job. He can’t “win”, but he can give the party a lift.

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

Will David Cameron Seal The Deal?

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 15, 2010 @ 14:00

My sister insists he looks like a pigeon. What do you think?

David Cameron has it all to lose. Ahead in the polls, looking comfortable, managed extremely well by his backroom team, and financed to the hilt. He could say nothing else and cruise to victory, of that I’m still certain.

Despite that, Cameron, is going to win the debate, and he will do so simply by looking and acting normal. Remember McCain and Obama’s first debate? Pundits afterwards were breathlessly spinning that McCain had won, because he did, admittedly, have good quips and plenty of shit to throw at Obama.

The nation, however, saw it differently. What they saw was that Obama was no bogey man, in spite of the months of negativity from the Republican campaign. They saw he was cool, calm, rational, sober and very thoughtful. He respected his opponent. He looked strong, robust and capable. McCain, on the other hand, looked like a grumpy, shifty old man, refusing to make eye contact with Obama.

The debate was lost by McCain not because of what he said, but the way he behaved.

Cameron will do the same tonight. He will act thoughtful. He will engage with the debate. He will be fully in command of the figures and the arguments, and will deliver soundbite after glorious soundbite. He will persuade the nation that he is a safe pair of hands in these troubled times, and that he has a plan for the future to tackle Britain’s ills.

His team will have studied all the great American debates for what works. They will have coached him extremely well. He’ll have a couple of one-liners up his sleeve (a la Reagan); perhaps a self-deprecating one too to make him look human. But he will deploy them only if the moment is right. Don’t want to look like a joker, after all. And if there’s one thing Cameron is a master of, it’s timing.

In short, the bar is extraordinarily high for Cameron. One slip of the tongue, or one misplaced gesture will ruin it for him. The expectations are astronomical.

But as he’s proven time and time again, he revels under this degree of pressure.

In short, if Cameron acts like Cameron, he will win. He and he alone is responsible for the detoxifying of the Tory brand. On that stage, he is the whole party, and nothing else matters. No Gideons. No Graylings. No Fat Eric Pickles.

If he plays to his strengths of new, reformed, compassionate Conservatism, he will win.

And I fully expect him to.

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

The Debate: Watch The Expectation Game

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 15, 2010 @ 09:59

Another cracker. What the hell is this?

Already this morning we’ve had a Conservative (Caroline Spelman, according to the BBC) very kindly remind us that David Cameron is only a human being, so nervousness is only natural. And not a lot of people know that.

A bizarre thought came into my mind about 10 minutes ago too. What if Gordon Brown has been engaged in a clever game of utter self-destruction over the past couple of years so that he can come out tonight clean, polished, articulate and well-briefed – and knock the lightweight Cameron into the ground?

Of course not. But let’s not underestimate the tremendously low expectations we all have of Gordon Brown as a result of his track-record of  bumbling and incompetence. That will be critical tonight.

As for Nick Clegg, not many know what to expect. His competent performance with Paxman on Monday was a big triumph, but he’s still the great unknown in this election. Which way will he go? The questioners will try to tease it out of him…

What about ITV? They are revelling in being lucky enough to get the first debate, but they’ll be devastated not to be able to sell adverts between it!

Don’t for a second think we’ll be seeing a record TV audience tonight. BBC Breakfast were saying 30 million people could watch. Utter tosh. The peak audience might hit 15m, if they’re lucky. The average will be around 10m. Bear in mind that Nick Griffin’s appearance achieved 8m for Question Time, and that was hyped to the max too.

Expectations are key to framing tonight’s debate. The pundits and spin doctors will all be hard at work today explaining what they think will be the fair result for their man. Don’t believe any of them. In fact, don’t watch any TV today. Except the debate, of course. Allow your mind to be unpolluted by what the teams want you to think.

If you do read one thing today, though, I’d suggest you stay here. At 2pm, 4pm and 6pm I will release a post on each leader, saying what I think they can achieve, and whether they will do it. Then, at 8:30pm (hopefully) I will live blog the event.

It will all, of course, be Fair and Balanced.

It’s a good day for democracy. It’s a good day for TV.

The schedule for today:

2pm: Will David Cameron Seal The Deal?
4pm: Can Nick Clegg Justify His Inclusion?
6pm: Is Gordon Brown Capable Of Fighting Back?
8:30pm: Liveblogging The Debate

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