Revealing television debate, but who has the X Factor?

Channel 4 made history on Monday by screening the first ever televised Chancellor of the Exchequer debate. For those of you that missed it, it was actually a gripping hour of mud slinging, policy and, unbelievably, humour. Most of the electorate undeniably vote based on personality, so it was interesting to see Alistair Darling, Vince Cable and George Osborne represent the three major parties and debate for currently the most important job in British politics.

“Who has been the most honest about the problems? Who has the ideas and the credibility to solve them? Who inspires you?” This was how host Krishnan Guru-Murthy began the programme, and by the end of an uninterrupted hour of debate, the public’s political views might not have changed, but the views on the potential Chancellor’s themselves will certainly have altered. ‘Inspiring’ however was possibly the wrong word to use.

With this being a television debate, I did not know what to expect from the audience. I was secretly hoping for a frenzied ‘Jeremy Kyle’ studio audience that would boo and hiss and argue their question to the death. It turned out to be similar to ‘Question Time’, but not quite so heated. There was time only for a limited number of questions, but the format was very structured and professional allowing clarity in the answers of each candidate.

Key areas of debate revolved around spending cuts, increases in taxation, jobs and the banking system. All fought their corner well, George Osborne attacking Darling’s Labour record as often as possible. Vince Cable for the Liberal Democrats often stated his position bluntly and too the point, for the most part answering the exact question asked, rather than skirting the issue highlighted. It was rather disconcerting to see the current chancellor, Alistair Darling, always being so hopeful. His opening statement was confident but as soon as he resorted to ‘I hope…’ in his answers about his own suitability for the job, you felt that he wasn’t quite so sure of his own qualities, let alone the policies he went on to speak about.

Beforehand, many would have expected George Osborne to walk away with the debate. Despite coming under attack early from Darling over National Insurance, he seemed to retort well. Each time Osborne looked to be leading the debate with his views and Conservative policies, Vince Cable came out with common sense, mixed with dry wit, to put forward the Liberal Democrat cause. Darling must have been thankful when Cable sided with him for some of the debate, but didn’t realise that Cable was actually stealing the show. He got interrupted in his one minute speech at the end due to a rapturous round of applause from the audience.

George Osborne tried to be realistic at the end by stating that the next government will be either Labour or Conservative. This is undeniably the truth, but it seemed uncalculated for him to state the obvious after the audience at home and in the studio had connected so well with Cable. Osborne ended up being portrayed as bitter that he wasn’t getting the praise and credit he deserved for all the policies Darling kept stealing. Surely that is better than being seen as a sneering old Etonian? Darling spoke well, but you had to remind yourself that this was the current Chancellor who has been promising of recovery and better times for the past two years. For him it ended up being a case of ‘heard it all before’.

This debate was an easy way for the electorate to see each party putting forward their economic policies, the ones which aim to reduce national debt and provide job prospects for the future. Bring on the party leader debates, as this Chancellor debate shows that they are going to play a very important role in the national election.

7 comments

  1. 30 Mar ’10 at 10:09 pm

    Lloyd Sparkes

    Well you seem to have a funny definition of gripping. In my opinion it wasnt overly good.

    Now Vince Cable did get alot of claps, and cheers, i dont know if thats because the audience was a very left/lib dem audience, but he played to populaist views, “down with the bankers”, which do well in certian audiences, and when darling got applause it was for much the same reasons (i dont think Osborne got any applause).

    With that in mind i think Cable and Osborne got a good amount of policy across, although i wish Osborne could have done better on getting across the points on cutting beaucracy. Darling was quite lacking in policy and substance.

    Another issue i had with Cable and Darling was their continuancy of this idea of “fairness”. This is a terrible term to use, fairness is an subjective term, what one defines as begin fair, might not seem fair to someone else. And when it comes to that, we have to look at the parties promising this at the heart of their election campaigns and think, what excatly do they mean by fair? And how do they aim to achieve it? And is it fair for everyone, or just a specific part of the population?

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  2. ”Most of the electorate undeniably vote based on personality”

    Sorry, this isn’t an SU election. In the GE there are a number of factors that influence voting behaviour and the personality of the chancellor-designates is pretty low down that list.

    Granted, the ‘personality’ of the party leaders is important but it doesn’t overshadow the more serious influencing factors (perceived competence, policy on certain issues, etc) in the same way as when when electing our YUSU officers.

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  3. I agree with the above – saying “most of the electorate undeniably vote based on personality” is pushing it. I think that very few do – more people vote based on experience, policy and trust (or rather the ‘least bad’ in each of those categories) than on personality. And besides, how many of the major politicians in the UK have popular personalities?

    And I also disagree with the closing sentiment; “as this Chancellor debate shows that they are going to play a very important role in the national election” – really? I thought that this debate showed that parties say very similar things, politics is pretty dull and *not* funny and studio audiences are extremely irritating… Plus it showed that very few people bother to tune in to televised debates unless well advertised :P

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  4. Darling came across surprisingly well considering, but seems a lost cause.

    Cable came across as the best in terms of experience and policies that make sense given the current climate, but was too downbeat about winning (rightly so it could be argued, but he should become chancellor if the parties can agree a coalition government when parliament is hung).

    Osborne (real name Gideon Osborne, not that it should make any difference but is a slightly humorous fact) came over as the usual smarmy Tory (considering there is a difference between a Tory and Conservative). He seemed to be all talk and put-downs on the others and not much decent policy. Expected, I suppose, given his complete lack of economic experience and overall bad track record so far in making calls and suggestions on what needs to be done (unlike Cable who has actually been quite good at calling it).

    Lloyd Sparkes says: “And is it fair for everyone, or just a specific part of the population?”

    I agree it’s a stupid term to use, especially in a manifesto. I imagine it means “fair” for the majority of the every-day working or lower-middle class population (not that such distinctions really exists these days). Basically most people who are not as greedy as Sir Fred or as upper-class as Cameron, Osborne and their other Bullingdon Club mates.

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  5. Cable won this one hands down.

    – Detailed plans for cuts like Trident, ID cards, NHS wastage not made up ‘efficiency savings’
    – Detailed plans about reforming the tax system – no tax before £10k and a £700 average tax cut paid for by the £2m mansion tax.
    – Decent experience as an economist, has predicted the crisis and warned about it
    – A sense of humour. “Pinstripe Scargills” the only memorable line of the night.

    Osborne had no ‘change’ to offer, despite the Tory message being ‘vote for change’. Just opposing new inheritance taxes…predictable much?

    Darling looked confident but has the baggage of Labour’s wasteful spending and financial mismanagement attached to him.

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  6. 1 Apr ’10 at 8:28 am

    Lloyd Sparkes

    @Mike

    He did do well by detailing them, and i was annoyed at Osborne for not detailing them, as losing ID Cards, and cutting NHS beaurcracy are Tory Policy.

    You said made up efficiency savings, but its very obvious that there is a lot of money to be saved in goverment, just by cutting beaucracy, but you cannot implement these, or give alot of detail on them, untill you are in goverment and running it.

    Osbourne did give details on NI cuts, and Business tax cuts, which in the mess we are currently in, is more important than giving tax cuts to people (although i love the Lib Dem Policy of 10k personal allowance), we need to grown the economy and this is better done imo by incouraging business not consumer spending. Also i cannot find any details on a so called Mansion tax on the lib dem site, it is mentioned alot but no specific details are there

    Decent experience as an economist? Anyone with half a braincell could have forseen the crisis (and many people did), anytime you have a boom,and such a large boom as we had, it is bound to burst, but it was largly ignored because everything was going so well. Lets not forget that the Tories have been pushing for deficit control & reduction for years now.

    Sense of Humor? Hardly, Cable only did well because of saying populiast remarks like “Pinstripe Scargills” which only help to create tension between classes. It also ignores the fundamental causes of this crisis, which i dont think any party or major country is tackling correctly.

    Darling & Labour are a lost cause, if there is so much that can be saved and cut and wasteful spending why is it there? why hasnt it already been cut? Why does it exist? They have been in power for 13 years, its too late for them to say it, they’ve had 13years to prove it.

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  7. @Sparkes- The denomination of the audience was in fact a 7:7:5 ratio in favour of Labour and the Conservatives (as well as some minority party supporters) to clear up: “i dont know if thats because the audience was a very left/lib dem audience”

    I think all 3 were popularist but Cable came out best because he said things in the most straight forward manner instead of dancing around the question like the other 2. For the record I am not a lib dem but thought Cable was the most impressive in the debate.

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