Sunday, 18 April 2010

Round-Up: Reactions To The First Leadership Debate

#rdgpol - Nearly 10m people tuned in to watch the 'historic' first ever UK leadership election debate, so a sample from the local blogosphere will show how it went down with the public.

BBC South's political correspondent Peter Henley notes how there will always be a few who are turned off by politics, a few who get bored and a few who are genuinely undecided, 'pondering the question' of which way to vote.

So Reading List settled down to tune in (with some popcorn) to watch how proceedings unfurled.

Bloggers reactions

Newbury citizen journalist Jim Millen (who previously admitted he is tending towards voting Conservative) says "it was quite compelling viewing and an intriguing addition to our democratic process," calling the result 'very even actually'.

He says LibDem leader Nick Clegg was "best in tune with the studio audience," but while he was impressed with the solidity of Gordon Brown's performance David Cameron didn't show enough 'enthusiasm, fire and passion'.

For him the debate was frustrating as it didn't provide enough rational scrutiny of the respective party policies and says it was "depressing to see the negativity, sniping and bitterness being expressed" on the twitter #leadersdebate stream.

Jim also thought the format was successfully handled by ITV moderator Alistair Stewart given the artificiality of the format on its' first airing and the potential that it could've "degenerated into argumentative scrapping."

However Green Party candidate Adrian Windisch had obviously already made his mind up to be bored by the process from the start, calling it 'underwhelming' - even exclaiming a 'Yawn'. In a clear expression of his level of engagement with the political process he attempts to summarise the responses to the questions: 'Repeat ad nauseum. Again.'

Adrian's only amusement came from reading the #leadersdebate twitterstream and he provides a lengthy diatribe against the three parties for not addressing the economic issues facing the country (Editor's note: home affairs were the subject of the first debate, foreign affairs will be covered in part two before the debate turns to economic issues in part three).

To round things off Adrian attacks the audience for asking 'poor' questions and Alistair Stewart for his 'poor' moderation.

Labour's Cllr John Ennis also gives no allowance for ITV's handling of the new format as he trots out the official party line conceding points on performance to the LibDems, but asserting a moral victory for Gordon Brown on the substantive issues.

But Bracknell branding expert Leslie Everett argues that
"it's not just a matter of having the right substance and the right manifestos, we've got to make sure we feel like people mean them as well... the brand image that comes across really does help us to feel the credibility or not."
She comments "Gordon Brown... was holding on to the podium for dear life at one stage" and David Cameron "was just too polished and too direct," as he "came across as a little bit insincere... we didn't really feel like we meant some of this stuff."

Elsewhere atheist blogger Steve Borthwick thinks it's "easy to become cynical" about the difficult choice between the parties.

Nevertheless, he says, Nick Clegg "seemed the only one willing to actually venture into quantification and example," stating he doesn't trust the continuous spin of Gordon Brown and David Cameron who represent the past and vested interests.

On the other side of the coin Reading floating voter Bag Lady described the event as 'gripping'.

Although she was disappointed that the personality of the leaders didn't come through strongly enough for her she decides Nick Clegg is the "most likeable and most authentic out of all three."

And freethinker Elizabeth Thomas says it is "remarkable that... [the UK] has never held debates between candidates running to lead the country."

She cites the international reaction from her native America where expectations for a dull contest between the leaders of the two big parties has been 'transformed' by the traction gained by the third party.

Elizabeth adjudges that "Clegg had cleverly managed to position Cameron and Brown as two peas in a conventional political pod" and successfully delivered "a knockout message of change."

Consequently LibDem bloggers were always likely to be upbeat about the event, with Thatcham's Paul Walter liveblogging and Sandhurst's Mark Thompson hosting a live chat for it's duration - each of which provide some invaluable insights into LibDem thinking.

Opinion poll reactions

After the event LibDem positivity about the result continued with Cllr Glenn Goodall and Paul Walter, who were both strongly encouraged by the performance of their leader.

A position which appears to be borne out by the latest opinion polls. Anthony Wells looks at the figures and sees a big swing towards the LibDems among female voters and under-35's.

Which may explain why Conservative Cllr Richard Willis has scaled back on his reporting on the flood of current opinion polls to highlight only the favorable aspects for his side.

Luckily he isn't the only local blogger who keeps a close eye on the polls: Mark Thompson has been keeping up a balanced and consistent commentary.

Mark starts off by reporting the poll 'bounce' for the LibDems as 'good news', but warns of drawing conclusions before a trend emerges.

He also notes that critical commentators have suggested this may be a high-water mark for LibDem support, and offers the counter-argument that Nick Clegg may begin to benefit from a positive feedback loop if a trend does begin to emerge - which it shows all inclinations of doing as some pollsters are even placing the LibDems in first place (an event unrivalled in modern polling history).

He even admits that the past few days are making him feel 'a bit giddy' with confidence going into the next debate which will focus on foreign affairs, including the UK's relationship with Europe and possibly our international military commitments.

Mark preempts attacks on his party by arguing "there are no easy options for Cameron and Brown to counter Clegg" on these issues, before explaining exactly why in greater depth.

Cllr Warren Swaine provides the opposite angle - he says when the public listen to LibDems without being filtered through the press or broadcast media his words resonate and people simply like what they hear. In his defence he cites a Newsnight focus group and doorstep canvassing.

And in reference to the famous rally when the wheels came off the seemingly unstoppable Labour bandwagon in 1992, Paul Walter asks exuberently: 'Was the leader's debate David Cameron's 'Sheffield moment'?'

Bracknell Blog's Darren Bridgeman is more cautious and urges fellow LibDems not to overemphasis reactions to the result of the debate and instead use it for personal motivation alone.

Wokingham PPC Cllr Prue Bray is clearly doing exactly that, noting a surge in members of the public on the doorstep stating their willingness to support her - especially considering the prediction of her opponent, incumbent tory MP John Redwood, that it would be a dull affair!


Update: It's also worth linking to Nigel Morgan's Building Reputations PR blog, where he's been an avid follower of the communications methods employed so far throughout the campaign.

Nigel starts by quoting a Derek Bacon cartoon from The Economist "Brown is ‘the devil you know’, Cameron ‘the devil you don’t’ and Clegg is ‘Who the devil’."

He follows this up with his analysis of the debate, suggesting it may have been a strategic error for Cameron and Brown to agree to Clegg joining in (although in reality they had little choice and they clearly thought they could use him to sidetrack their other opponent).

Refreshingly for a PR man who advocates the benefits of PR Nigel states Clegg was able to shine precisely because he was more natural and remembered the basics of good communication without the need for specific coaching.

Communications guru Graham Jones was particularly interested in how Nick Clegg changed perceptions by modifying his language - instead of calling the prospect of a parliament where no party has a majority a 'hung parliament' the LibDem leader called it a 'balanced parliament'.

At a stroke he banished the negative connotations and brought in a fresh, clear and positive appreciation of the subject, winning kudos within the communications industry up and down the country.

Both Graham and Nigel conclude that if the next two debates go the same way then this election really is up for grabs!

Oranjepan says:
Berkshire bloggers score round 1 to Nick Clegg and the LibDems - just remember there's two more rounds to go...


More from on the election trail


  1. I think the more I see of the Tories on TV, the more I remember how much I hated them at the end of Thatcher's reign. Maybe other voters do too. They all seem so elite and toffee-nosed. It's like the more I see them pontificate, the more I don't want them back in. And I was through with Labour after the invasion of Iraq - I normally would have voted for them but not after Blair.

  2. I watched the thing twice, first live while following on twitter, second while writing a summary of the what was said. The first time was fun, seeing others reactions, interacting with the twitosphere. The second time very boring, as when you pay close attention, you see how repetitive the whole thing was. Hence the yawning.

    So no I hadn't made up my mind to be bored, that was my response to the part of the debate that was boring.

    If you look at the questions you will see why, they were too similar.

    The media, and you, are right to say Clegg did well, but that would ignore that the others also had good moments, and Clegg had bad moments.

    I hope the second one is better.

    Looking forward to reading your balanced commentary as always.


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