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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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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