The leaders' debates
Rachel Cooke is not swung by watching Gordon, Dave and Nick go head to head.
The leaders' debates
ITV1, Sky News, BBC1
Did the prime ministerial debates help you to make up your mind? They didn't help me. Watching three professional politicians talk, unchallenged and unheckled, for four and a half hours isn't quite the thing to make a girl fall in love. Instead, I became fixated on trivial stuff. The size of David Cameron's nose, for instance, and his high-gloss chin; also, the spivvy moustache that seems to be permanently on the point of sprouting on his top lip. Honestly, if this was 1942, Cameron would be standing at the bar of some backstreet boozer, trying to flog black-market cigarettes.
There was, I admit, a brief period when I warmed to Clegg, but that had nothing to do with the debates. I read that he likes J M Coetzee, and has never seen The Bill, and I thought, jeez, he really doesn't just spout whatever he thinks will please the most. (Plus, he smokes. In spite of myself, I'm still a tiny bit turned on when a man pulls out a packet of Marlboro Lights.)
As for Brown, by debate three he looked so tired that he was actually mottled, as if, in the manner of some very basic creature (for instance, a moth), a defensive evolutionary process had begun that would end with him being so camouflaged that no one would be able to see him. I started to feel that giving him my vote might even be cruel. On grounds of weariness alone, he should be allowed - like Freda, the Blue Peter tortoise - to snore away until the turning of the season. Perhaps he could use the new "massage suite and contemplation room" at the Department for Children, Schools and Families. I'm sure Michael Gove won't mind. Sarah Brown could then tweet his grand awakening, some time in early October.
My main feeling about the debates is that they were a good deal less fascinating - or do I mean bewildering? - than the way they were covered. There was, and is, a weird disconnect between the experience of the viewer at home and that of, say, Nick Robinson, Huw Edwards or Kirsty Wark. Granted, I turned on the third debate with a faint flutter of excitement: the hype had got to me (God knows there was enough of it; I gather that party aides came to regard the days between the debates as "quiet time", though we must exclude Brown's aide Sue Nye from this equation).
But after about 20 minutes, I felt just the tiniest bit bored. I switched over. Ye gods. On ITV1, Nigel Havers appeared to be starring in Coronation Street. What's more, he appeared to have enjoyed recent sexual intercourse with Audrey Roberts, widow of Alf Roberts - the one-time mayor of Weatherfield and Eric Pickles-alike. Not having seen Corrie for years, I was agog. Nevertheless, I forced myself to turn over again. Back on BBC1, the three bears were pretending to answer a question from a woman called Jean about manufacturing . . . Time for a cup of tea!
But when the Ten O'Clock News came on and, after it, Newsnight and Question Time, it was as if the various commentators were talking about a different debate altogether. Robinson was almost peeing himself with excitement. On the news, they did the unfathomable thing with the "worms" again. These are a complete waste of taxpayers' money. They're powered by only eight people and a dachsund.
Meanwhile, in Spin Alley, Laura Kuenssberg was forced, yet again, to talk to representatives from each of the three parties. Mandelson said Brown had been "barnstorming" (amazing, really, that she didn't dissolve into hysterical laughter); George Osborne said Cameron had been "strong"; Vince Cable did a bit more frisky love chat about Nick.
What it comes down to, now the whole shebang is over, is that these debates haven't really changed anything other than the three parties' workload, spin-wise, research-wise and practising-in-front-of-the-mirror-wise. As we approach the big day, the party that looks likely to win is the one that looked likely to win long before Alastair Stewart rolled out his strange impression of Murray Walker doing a Formula One commentary. So I'm well and truly stuck.
I have decided, therefore, to write to my TV crush, Stephanie Flanders, who is clever and wise and can picture the precise proportions of the Budget deficit in her mind's eye. I will ask her how she is going to vote. Come on, Steph. Just between the two of us, who's best?