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

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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