TV debate: five things you might have missed

Election 2010: Guffwatch!

Analysis. That's what you want after a TV debate. And you have come to the right place for that, my friend. Some key points.

1. Boulton. He was quiet as a mouse. Could barely hear the guy. It was better, I suppose, than the barking Stewart, but still, I expected more volume from the voluminous fellow.

2. The changing positions. Cambo must have thought after last week, "There's no way I'm getting stuck in the middle again after that mini-tantrum sweaty terror fiasco." So in goes Clegg, and Brown and Cambo think they'll execute a perfect pincer movement ("Get real" was quite a good moment, but old Gordo, as he will, did rather ruin it by knowing it was good and therefore saying it 14 times within the space of five minutes). But what happens? Clegg looks statesman-like, the man in the middle, the third way, the one when you look to right or left that you think you'll plump for after all. He even used his positioning to his advantage, flapping his arms to indicate the tired hopelessness of those on either side. Cambo meanwhile basically drifted off the stage halfway through and everyone forgot he existed.

3. Clegg. There's something quite impressive about a politician who, after a week of such extraordinary hype, can still saunter on, hand in pocket, roll his eyes, have a laugh. When Clegg laughs you realise how clinically wrong Brown's smiling is. Without doubt, it would win first prize in the competition for "most unnatural facial movement of all time".

4. Spin Alley. I still find it so embarrassing that we are literally, in a sort of Please Let The West Wing Be Real way, trying to crowbar "Spin Alley" into our lexicon. But that's beside the point. Is there anything more pointless that hearing David Miliband, Theresa May and Chris Huhne play the "Who Won?" game. To summarise: "My guy did." "No, I think you'll find my guy did." "No, no, you're both wrong. MY GUY'S THE BEST." I find those exchanges really help to clarify the preceding 90 minutes.

5. Best thing of the night. Those shots of ahem Spin Alley as you see hapless minor politicians wandering around hoping for an interview, clearing their throats in the corner and pretending to be frantically on their Blackberry, when clearly they're just hoping to catch some local news station reporter's eye and force themselves on to their show.

Oh, and finally, the Guff champion? It's Kay Burley, of Sky News, for her alarming interview technique and saying things to Alastair Cambell like: "He looked down the barrel, your man, didn't he, didn't he?" Which left both Campbell and the viewing population of the UK entirely baffled.

 

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Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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