TV debates: five not hugely important things you might have missed

Election 2010: Guffwatch!

Having surfaced from a deep submersion in the post-tv debate analysis pond (it is thick and murky down there, with a million tweets and so much Clegg) it is now time to take a calmer view of last night's proceedings. Why, I ask, have the following not been addressed with the same fierce scrutiny as who won/the rules/Clegg/Clegg/Clegg/Clegg/Clegg?

1. The opening credits. Were we in 1972? The most important televisual moment in political broadcasting history and ITV took a leaf out of the design concept behind The Generation Game. (Also, did the whole thing not, at times, resemble The Weakest Link? I kept expecting Clegg and Brown to hold up cards with "Cameron" scrawled on it. Cut to an interview with Cambo saying he thought it was all very unfair and meanie Brown was just out to get him.)

2. Cleggoland (this one definitely isn't going to catch on) drawing huge circles on his pad, clearly around the audience's names so he could say things like "Jacqueline, you're my friend aren't you?" and "Jacqueline, now I've said your name 85 times you'll have to vote for me! Won't you!"

3. Alastair Stewart's panic-stricken voice - revealed as he tried to assert his authority (really self-smashed in the moment he got the dates of the devolved debates wrong and maniacally whittered something about the "heat of the moment") by barking out their names with ever-escalating volume. "Mr Brown, Mr CAMeron, MIIISSTTTEERRR CLEGGGGGG!).

4. Cambo's angry eyes. Smiling with his mouth, murderous with his eyes. Never a good look.

5. Everyone in the audience was in a disguise! Seriously - have you ever seen so many false moustaches, patently fake glasses and oversized wigs? Tell me someone else noticed this - it was like they had all dressed up as the cast of Last of the Summer Wine in there. Right that's one too many dated TV show references. Over and out.

(Oh and the most important question of all. Who won on the GUFF? It's got to be Gordo doesn't it? The "I agree with Nick" stuff was nauseating and there was a nationwide cringe as he crunched out the jokes. The ultimate poll, then: The Guff Poll. Gordo: 1. Cambo: 0 (but +10 for his protestation after the event that he'd had so much fun! Puh-lease.) Cleggoland: 0 (but -4000 according to the British public who have suddenly heard of the Liberal Democrats).

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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Labour must reclaim English patriotism if we are to beat Ukip and the Tories

We can't talk about the future of our country unless we can discuss the past. 

I was a parliamentary candidate for Thurrock, but the place which I currently call home is Hackney, London. This distinction is worth explaining. The questions of Labour and Englishness – what exactly is the English problem that we’re trying to solve, why do we need a progressive patriotism, does it already exist, if not why not and if we had one what would it look like? – are, above all, questions of identity and place. We need to build a patriotism that includes and resonates with residents of both Hackney and Thurrock. Currently they are very far apart. 

I’m the little girl who sat on her dad’s shoulders to wave a flag at Princess Anne’s first wedding. And I was also, like Sadiq Khan, waving a flag at the Silver Jubilee in 1977. I’m an ex-Catholic, I’m a Londoner, I’m English and I’m a woman, and all of those identities are important although not necessarily equally so and not necessarily all of the time.

But I’m also a member of the Labour party, not only as a candidate, but now as an activist in Hackney. And that is where I see the difference very strongly between Hackney and what I experienced in Thurrock. 

Thurrock was Ukip ground zero last year - 12,000 people voted for Ukip in a general election for the first time, on top of the 3,500 that had voted for them before in 2010. Most of those 12,000 people had either not voted before, or had voted Labour. 

This isn’t just about being in two different places. Sometimes it feels like more than being in two different countries, or even like being on two different planets. The reality is that large swathes of Labour’s members and supporters don’t identify as patriotic, fundamentally because patriotism has been seized and colonised by the right. We need to understand that, by allowing them to seize it, we are losing an opportunity to be able to reclaim our past. 

We do not have any legitimacy to talk about the future of our country unless we can talk about our past in a better way. We have tried but our efforts have been half-hearted. Take Ed Miliband's call for One Nation Labour, which ended up amounting to a washed-out Union Jack as a visual for our brand. It could have been so much better – an opportunity for an intellectual rebranding and a seizure of Conservative territory for our own ends. Ultimately One Nation Labour was a slogan and not a project. 

There is a section of the left which has a distinct discomfort with the idea of pride in country. It has swallowed the right-wing myth that England’s successes have all been Conservative ones. This is a lie, but one that has spread very effectively. The left’s willingness to swallow it means that we are still living in a Thatcherite paradigm. It is no wonder progressives revolt at the idea of patriotism, when the right’s ideas of duty and authority quash our ideas of ambitions for equality, opportunity for all and challenging injustice. But we risk denying our successes by allowing the right to define Englishness. It’s England that helped establish the principle of the right to vote, the rule of law, equal suffrage, and the fight against racism. 

If Englishness is going to mean anything in modern England, it needs to be as important for those who feel that perhaps they aren’t English as it is for those who feel that they definitely are. And a place must be reserved for those who, though technically English, don’t see their own story within the Conservative myth of Englishness. 

Although this reclaiming is electorally essential, it is not an electoral gimmick. It is fundamental to who we are. Even if we didn’t need it to win, I would be arguing for it.

We need to make sure that progressive patriotism reclaims the visual language that the Conservatives use to dress up their regressive patriotism. Women need to be as much in the pantheon of the radicals as part of the visual identity of Englishness. Women tend to either be there by birth or by marriage, or we are abstract manifestations of ideals like "justice" or "truth" – as seen on city halls and civic buildings across the country. But English women need to be real, rather than just ideal. Englishness does need to be focused on place and connection, and it should include Mary Wollstonecraft and Sylvia Pankhurst as well as Wat Tyler and Thomas Paine. 

We can’t pretend that we’re always right. The most patriotic thing you can do is to admit sometimes that you’re wrong, so that your country can be better. I love my country, for all its faults. But I do not live with them. I try to make my country better. That is progressive patriotism. And I know all of us who want to be part of this can be part of it. 

This article is based on Polly’s contribution to Who Speaks to England? Labour’s English challenge, a new book published today by the Fabian Society and the Centre for English Identity and Politics at the University of Winchester.