Thursday saw the first in the line-up of television debates titled the Battle for Number 10 the programme was broadcast simultaneously across Channel 4, Sky and was also featured on the BBC News Channel. The programme featured both Prime Minister David Cameron and the Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband taking to the stage to defend their parties, policies and even personalities to a live audience.
Disappointingly the event was not by any means a debate with each party leader speaking separately; undoubtedly they would have been aware of what the other was saying but had no means of responding to points made. Sadly for those who enjoyed the type of interaction seen at the 2010 election debates this layout was not to be repeated on the PM’s insistence but the event did give the two men the opportunity to put their parties’ points across in two very different arenas. One of which involved a grilling encounter with former Newsnight front man Jeremy Paxman; if The Thick of It is to be believed a harrowing experience that every politician fears. This was followed by a question and answer session with Sky’s Kay Burley and the studio audience.
First up was David Cameron who picked to have his debate with Jeremy Paxman first. The debate started with Paxman challenging Cameron over his government’s policies on employment and crucially from a student perspective the issue of zero hour contracts. When challenged by the former Newsnight presenter Cameron conceded when he admitted that he himself could not live on the wages afforded by such as contract. Paxman then moved on to the economy an area of discussion that the Prime Minister would come back to for the rest of the night, to a slightly repetitive extent. Cameron’s focus was that his government had helped create a stronger economy and that without it Britain could not hope to solve its other problems.
Ed Miliband decided to take his night the other way round starting with the audience debate and finishing with the talk with Paxman. Miliband had a much more personal debate with the audience and was slightly uncomfortable when confronted repeatedly with the idea that his brother David Miliband might have done a better job than him. Interestingly commentators on the BBC commented that Miliband had performed better than expected and in the areas they had not predicted with the one on one interview proving more successful than his audience debate. Indeed when it came to his talk with Jeremy Paxman, Miliband refused to let him get a point past him. However, whether he managed to explain the points as he so vehemently asked to, is perhaps debatable. A final point that must be made on Miliband’s interview with Paxman is that he seemed almost visibly worked up to the point where he was almost aggressive. Indeed the interviewer asked after the debate “are you ok?” Miliband’s quick retort was “yes, are you?” Clearly this was not the night to mince your words.
In the era of social media the debate did not finish when the cameras were switched off. Anyone with one eye on Twitter on Thursday night will have seen it explode with the onslaught of post-debate polls and graphics. Whilst the polls didn’t seem to stop they made for interesting reading; data from ICM appeared to give Cameron the overall edge on the night; though it was slim with 54 per cent of those polled believing the current PM had won the talk. However when the issues polled were focused down some more surprising data came to light. Participants tended to attribute more leadership qualities to David Cameron believing he would be better in a crisis and would be more decisive than Miliband. Conversely Miliband seemed to have more of a moral victory as he was seen as more understanding, the leader most likely “to have the courage to say what was right” and the one with less political spin in their talk. Although these polls were only taken by just over 1000 participants the polls themselves are interesting indication of how the voting population perceive the leaders.
Some Twitter users were uncomfortable about some of the questions put to Ed Miliband by Paxman, Burley and the audience who seemed to focus in on the issue of his brother David and the “north London geek” image he has in the media. Others believed that Burley had been slightly biased in her coverage of the event.
As the first of the planned televised events the discussions certainly made for an interesting watch but would have ultimately more testing on the participants if they had been in a head to head debate. A more challenging situation where the two politicians would have had to prove that their policy was best and counter more effectively their opposite number. Individually they were harder to compare on specific issues which cannot have helped the undecided voter. Next week’s event promises debate between all of the seven major party leaders but it seems to many commentators that this will give individual leaders a chance to hide behind the spin of others.
As to who won the debate; the statistics say Cameron but social media seemed to place Miliband as the winner. The best judge for all these debates remains the ballot box but we’ll have to wait for that.