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Goodbye to Punch and Judy

Be careful what you wish for

At the end of a long and bruising campaign I've been known to grouch to my colleagues that "it's a pity they can't all lose". In 2010, I didn't feel like that - thanks to the energising TV debates and better personal planning. But you could say I got what I'd wished for. All parties undershot their hopes or expectations: no overall majority for either the Conservatives or Labour, and no Cleggmaniacal surge for the Liberal Democrats.

The politicians get it

Many in the media and at Westminster regard the hung parliament as an aberration. Their top priority is to see a hasty coalition cobbled together, just in order to limp on to ­another "proper election" in a few months' time. But I don't think that's where Clegg, Cameron and Brown are all at. Naturally, they'd like to have won outright. But looking into their eyes on Friday, you could see that the mood was very different - they get the new politics.

Usually after an election, all the parties juggle the statistics to make out that they've really done very well. Not this time. I would have expected the Conservatives to pack St Stephen's Club with cheering supporters for David Cameron's post-result statement. Instead, he marched in silence to a lectern stripped of party bunting and rattled through statistics about the Tory performance, before acknowledging that "we fell short". This was a prelude to his "big, open and comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats". Meanwhile, in Downing Street, Gordon Brown was diplomacy itself as he offered the offices of the state to support the discussions of "Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg", urging them to take as long as they needed.

"I agree with Nick"

The debates foretold the new political mood. Brown and Cameron didn't have to engage with Nick Clegg on equal terms, but they did. Some of their advisers regard the three-ways as a catastrophic miscalculation, but I salute the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition for embracing politics as it now is in the UK.

When I moderated the Sky News debate in Bristol on 22 April, there were many opportunities for the leaders to get personal.

I made eye contact with them, but they res­isted any invitation to mix it. Confronted by cameras and a live audience, they instinctively avoided Punch-and-Judy politics.

The phrase "I agree with Nick" has been much derided, but it's an expression of the spirit of our times.

Smearing Sky

Broadcasting on College Green outside parliament on Saturday afternoon, we found our­selves surrounded by the Trotskyist faction of the Fair Votes Now march, which duly regaled us with chants of "Adam Boulton, Mur­doch's lackey of the air" and "Out, out, out".

New Statesman readers may be surprised to learn that Sky News is bound by exactly the same rules on balance and impartiality as the BBC and ITV, and that we take them very seriously indeed. We operate under different rules from the press, so were appalled when Ed Balls smeared us in his interview last week with Mehdi Hasan, claiming that "Sky News and most of the newspapers are deeply partisan". I asked Balls to justify his comment during an interview some time in the small hours of 7 May. He could only point to an exchange on the deficit and cuts that I'd had at a press conference with Lord Mandelson.

Oh, well - some Tories wanted me sacked as debate moderator after I commented that Cameron "should be careful" about questioning rules that his own officials had pressed for. And there was a petition submitted to Ofcom after I raised negative news­paper stories about Clegg during the debate. (The Lib Dems didn't complain and, anyway, the rules do not prohibit what I did.)

No cross in anyone's box

I don't vote, and not just because I like to spend most of polling day asleep, charging up for the 26-hour shift that starts for me when the polls close. I think my job is to test the strengths and weaknesses of the politicians I meet, and party affiliation is no more useful to me in that than club allegiance is to a football commentator. I'd find it very difficult to get close to the leaders having decided they were or weren't getting my cross in their box.

That old-time religion

We caught up with Gordon Brown for a final interview at an uncomfortably early hour in Leeds. The Prime Minister was focused and punchy, having rediscovered some of that old-time religion at rallies in the Methodist Central Hall, London, and in Manchester dur­ing the previous week.

My advice to candidates at the next election: do debates, cut down on the chatty "real people" walkabouts, and don't forget the power of a decent speech, well delivered.

Living colour

“I don't care. We are going to do it in rehearsal and it's going to work" - not exactly comforting words to hear from the director with only 20 minutes to go before the start of our live election-night special. Sky bosses decided to launch a new HD news channel from 9pm on polling day. The technology never did work in rehearsal, but, come the crucial moment, we went on air without a hitch. The shape of the new politics may be hazy right now, but at least you can watch it in high definition!

Adam Boulton is political editor of Sky News.

This article first appeared in the 17 May 2010 issue of the New Statesman, On a tightrope