Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Next Stop: Bristol. Is this the end of the line for the Clegg-train?

So tomorrow evening is the second of three televised election debates, whether or not 9.4m people will tune in again is yet to be seen. However given the phenomenon of 'Cleggmania' I'm sure this debate will again by widely anticipated. Without meaning to burst Clegg's bubble (I've not been drawn in by the Liberal Democrat bandwagon just yet although I have to say I do like him) there's still a long road ahead. Obviously there'll be no turning all the way back just yet, if ever, as finally the LibDems are being seen as a real option, a genuine alternative, much to the dismay of both Labour and the Conservatives. As well as the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, after all they want to be the alternative option and they wanted a chance to prove themselves in the debates. Sadly for them, but I maintain rightly, this wasn't to be and so the LibDems have cemented themselves as option three. Of three.

There are several things about 'Cleggmania' though that I feel should be noted, before we all get too carried away. Obviously Nick Clegg has had a meteoric rise this last week. He's young (same age as Cameron), an everyday guy (educated at Eton, then Cambridge), the best dressed (pretty much wearing the same as the other two), the best looking (not difficult), comes across well (like Blair) and appears to be an all-round good egg. Sadly though, if you are actually considering voting LibDem, you're probably not going to be voting for a Nick Clegg-a-like though, you'll be voting for your local LibDem, whom ever that may be. Obviously there are constituencies where they often do well so they have reasonably good candidates, and there are constituencies where they don't normally get a look in with their corresponding calibre of candidates. So whilst given the choice between Clegg, Cameron and Brown you may well pick Clegg you may not be so inclined in your own constituency.

Equally importantly, a soufflé doesn't rise twice, according to Welsh Tory Nick Bourne. Now I'm no soufflé expert (although I make an excellent baked cheesecake) but Clegg has, arguably, won the easiest of the three debates. I would have to say that whilst Brown will self admittedly still lose the style awards in the coming debates, and he does have a radio face (according to Kinnock), he does know his stuff when it comes to international issues and the economy. That is to say he knows his own stance and can roll out fact after fact and policy after policy. Obviously if you disagree with approach and Labours policies this is irrelevant, however I imagine he will seem self assured and well informed in the next debates. I'm not expecting such things from Cameron, I was worried that I would have to warm to him slightly after his expected display of brilliance at the debates, thankfully I needn't have bothered as I saw no such thing. Clegg however will have to do well to win this debate by such a stretch, I'm not saying he can't win again, I just don't think he will be head, shoulders and knees above the others.

Obviously so long as he wins the margin could be irrelevant if the press are still so pro Clegg. After all 9.4m is less than a quarter of all votes in the UK. That means that three-quarters of voters will be getting their information about the debates from other sources. The majority of 'other sources' are cosying up to Clegg, so two thirds of people are hearing about our new national super-hero and thinking he is our saviour without actually watching the debate. If Clegg does alright in the next debate the press might keep the Clegg-train running. If Brown does well they might still ride the Clegg train and the majority of voters will yet again hear how superb Nick Clegg is. This said I think that if viewership of the next debate is maintained or, indeed, increased I think that it will be quite a testament to increased public interest in Clegg.

I, personally, am expecting the next debate to pull in fewer viewers, but still quite a lot. I also imagine that all three leadership candidates will be briefed and then briefed some more. Clegg has set the bar and has certainly done beyond well for the LibDems. However in doing so he does allow for a change of approach from Cameron and Brown and so preparing for this debate may prove more difficult for him. Cameron and Brown will both have people working around the clock to decide on what approach to take this time and Clegg's team will just have to guess, assume or cover all bases. Clegg's benefit is, of course, that he can freely bash both parties. The following debates are set to focus on more specific areas allowing a full airing of proposed policies. Good for the voting public as we'll be able to see the clear differences between the parties. But good for Clegg? We'll have to wait and see.


  1. Let's put things in perspective - you make a good baked cheesechake, but not excellent. :-)

    But more seriously, I wouldn't say the majority of other sources are cosying up to Clegg. The Sun today is blasting the 'Lib Dumbs' for leaving pre-debate notes in the back of a cab. Sun readers are already having their hearts torn since the switch of allegiance from Labour to Tory - that kind of reporting is bound to influence a lot of undecided voters...probably influencing more per day than all the TV news coverage put together.

    I think just hearing that Clegg is doing well in the debates is boosting his profile. Seeing polls putting the Lib Dems at 32% (often more in others) is establishing the Lib Dems as a credible electable outfit, not a wasted vote third party brigade. Therefore I don't think the actual viewing figures of the debate is too important. If Clegg does well, the coverage will do the work for him - to show if he was a flash in the pan, or if he holds a real touch of class.

    The conservative media (Sun, Mail, Telegraph) are gunning for him now they see him as a threat. So it is imperative that Clegg does well in the next debate, as his polling figures are already on the (albeit slight) wane.

    The thing is, in international affairs his anti-Trident, EU referendum and Iraq policies set him apart from the 'Labservatives'. Labour and Tories are almost indistinguishable on international issues. If it does come down to issues, he certainly has the aces in his hand if the voters genuinely want to vote for 'change'. Then it comes down to a strong performance on the night, in his oratory and effective debating.

    This next debate is all important in my view. If he comes out on top, the media coverage will put him out to the country as a very able and electable candidate. The polling figures will then likely put him on top. By that time, the momentum of a whole more weeks coverage, he will be out in front with no time to crash and burn. It will be much harder for the conservative media to present him as a Lib-Dumb flash in the pan. And the last debate will barely damage him even if he is average and ineffective.

  2. I must agree with Adam. The right-wing press has been verging on character assassination this week, between the Mail on him being insufficiently British (and this: Tomorrow's Mail has an article accusing him of accusing Britons of being Nazis (complete guff) and now this Telegraph thing.

    I have to disagree with Adam on one tiny detail though - discounting the ComRes poll yesterday, which is almost certainly a rogue, I don't really see any movement in the polls at all. I think only the second debate can shift them in any way. This Telegraph thing will assuredly turn up in the debate tomorrow. In fact the timing is bloody suspicious if you ask, and how Cameron/Clegg approaches/deals with it may actually define who wins or loses the election.

  3. To further what Chris said: I think the way Cameron deals with the Telegraph issue will be very interesting. Until now his strategy has been to 'accentuate the positive' and run a campaign based on 'hope' (in other words: copy Obama), while letting the Tory press do all the attacking. (Or at least, that's what he tells us in his speeches - I'm not quite sure what's positive about the posters he's plastered across every street in the country.)

    But it's not getting the job done. In the last debate he seemed like a bit of a nothing. And, to be frank, this whole 'hope, positivity, change' thing doesn't work as well on Brits as it does on Americans. We like to see our politicians get angry. Maybe tonight they will.

  4. I see what you're saying but you do sum up my point when you say that "I think just hearing that Clegg is doing well in the debates is boosting his profile". Obviously more recently there has been a more direct attack on Clegg in the newspapers but in the immediate aftermath of the debates the overwhelming consensus was that Clegg won. The positive press probably had more influence on the current LibDem surge than the actual debate3 itself. After all in watching the debate he was good, but not as good as he has been portrayed, neither was Brown as bad.

    Obviously the since the debate the LibDems have become a more likely option and so their support has increased rapidly, and the media has responded as accordingly as it see's fit.

    As I wrote, the next debate is important partly on Clegg's performance and partly on how it is recieved and re-transmitted in the press.

    Essentially you have agreed with my points with the exception of more recent press and the policies on the next debate. I don't disagree that Labour and Tory policies are dissimilar however I think that the debates will expose the depths of the policies, something that Labour should have over the others.

    If Nick Clegg does do well in this debate then there could well be some interesting results in the general election.

  5. The word on twitter is that the right-wing press are already setting up 'Cameron Climbback' headlines on the assumption that he can't possibly do worse than last week!