The Leaders Debate on Thursday gave the country a chance to find out from the leaders themselves their stance on some of the more pressing issues on the minds of the public. Compared with the previous ‘debate’, where Ed Miliband and David Cameron each had a turn against Jeremy Paxman and then a chance to briefly interact with the studio audience, Thursday’s debate was far more engaging. It allowed for sharper critical interaction between the leaders and revealed the character of the likes of the leaders of the Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cyrmu.
How did the different leaders come across?
“Seemed out of touch with the nation’s means”
Starting in order of the line up from left to right, Natalie Bennett of the Green Party. An article in The Mirror has revealed how Bennett won over the most Twitter followers after the debate. This isn’t surprising. She espoused the idea of a truly utopian Britain. She championed the policy of anti-austerity and also seemingly the policy of overspending. Wanting to increase funding on every issue the audience raised. She seemed to convey a sense that debt was not necessarily a problem and that the Green Party wished to spend their way out of economic crisis. Some say she truly seemed out of touch with the nation’s means, listening to her you get the impression that Britain is able to throw money at everything and anything.
“like watching the Titanic go down”
Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats. Watching Clegg was like watching the Titanic go down. One couldn’t help but remember the Nick Clegg of the 2010 elections who took the nation by storm with his charisma and popular critique of the other political candidates. What we saw Thursday was a flame all but gone out, trying to revive itself. His strong criticisms of Cameron did little but remind the public of the part he played in the Conservative government. His constant declarations of his commitment to ‘balancing the books’ was contrasted sharply by the first question, how could the leaders promise to cut the deficit, as it has been broken promises which has reduced the Liberal Democrats to the position they are in today.
“suggesting Farage was on to something”
Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP. Farage was predictable in his manner, he was confrontational, he hammered home his policies and he was critical of everyone around him. But it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. To his credit he seemed to put aside political rhetoric and gave straight answers to the questions, controversial or not he never failed to make his point, give evidence and then explain, something as students that has become second nature to us. His declaration on the state of the national debt seemed to be taboo, with everyone avoiding the subject, suggesting Farage was on to something. He did perhaps harp on too much on policies he has already outlined and it would have been interesting to hear about UKIP solutions to national troubles other than leaving the EU and migration.
“strength and the ability to effectively deal with criticism”
Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party. Miliband has done much in this election campaign to squash fears of his character and Thursday’s performance continued to impress. He showed strength and the ability to effectively deal with criticism. He condemned Cameron for his reliance on Labour’s past mistakes to justify his own and he effectively silenced the Prime Minister by reminding him how he had supported Labour’s spending in 2008. However it was the smaller parties who effectively sniped Miliband, with Leanne Wood bringing up some hard truths on Labour’s track record in Wales. He was definitely in the anti-austerity camp but while Cameron can sometimes appear to be flogging a dead horse, it was Labour’s spending that was responsible for much of the problems faced by Cameron’s party, it is perhaps unwise to brush this detail aside despite its seemingly spent role in Cameron’s vocabulary.
“truly championed the cause for Welsh equality”
Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru. One couldn’t help but feel Leanne Wood was interested in no one other than the Welsh, and while she is the leader of a Welsh party, even Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP appealed somewhat to the rest of the UK. If you look at her performance from a Welsh prospective she truly championed the cause for Welsh equality within the Union. However she was on air to the entire United Kingdom and at some points you got the feeling that, despite the state of Wales, she simply didn’t care for the wider political scene. Yet she admitted herself that she succeeded in “speaking directly for Wales”, therefore one must give her credit for achieving what she set out to do.
“seek to improve the state of politics for all peoples”
Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon, much like Leanne Wood, championed her nations cause. However she honestly outlined at the beginning that while she desired Scottish independence, while Scotland was part of the UK, she would seek to improve the state of politics for all peoples. She too was in the anti-austerity camp, and believed Cameron’s cuts were doing no good for the state of the nation. She proposed investment in public services and infrastructure and often banged heads with Nigel Farage who labelled the Scots as ‘canny’ in their arrangement within the Union. Sturgeon’s performance put her amongst the four biggest winners of the debate, according to an average taken from a number of polls.
“the need to stay the course and see the job finished”
David Cameron, Prime Minister and leader of the Conservatives. One can’t help but have sympathy for David Cameron, as acting Prime Minister he was the target of all the other leaders and his dirty washing was hung out to dry. From his policies on the NHS, seeming support of the rich to his failures on immigration, he found himself broadsided from every angle. He kept to the same political rhetoric as usual of blaming Labour for the nations troubles. He cited Britain’s superior growth rate in the West and the need to stay the course and see the job finished as reasons to support his government. And this is perhaps his best defence. While he has made many mistakes which the other leaders did not shy from highlighting, he has made some progress, and we know what to expect if he is re-elected.
Overall then, the debate illuminated the characters of the separate leaders. It clearly divided their approach to austerity and gave a sense of how they would tackle the big issues on the public’s mind. Opinion polls show Miliband, Cameron, Farage and Sturgeon truly standing out from the crowd and perhaps foreshadow the public share of the vote.