The last of the three UK leaders’ debates was always going to be about policy rather than performance. Both the politicians and the audience had got used to the format of these new debates and so, thankfully, we could all look past the smoke and mirrors and focus on what the parties were offering.
That said, the chairman of IPOS Mori said yesterday that a large majority of people do make their mind up as to whom to vote for based on style rather than substance: a reflection perhaps on the shallow times in which we now live.
So on that basis, here is my take on the performance and protocol from the final UK leaders’ debate.
The first gentleman we see is the chairman, David Dimbleby, who handled the proceedings much better than Messers Boulton and Stewart. However, Dimbleby had his jacket fastened incorrectly and it may be appropriate to just recap the rules when it comes to suit jacket buttons. If it is a three-button suit, just the middle button; if it is a two-button suit, just the top.
If the ties were competing last night, David Cameron’s would have won. It was a block colour (a strong blue – probably a conscious metaphor on his part) and worked well when set against the lurid pink and orange backdrop. A bold and strong colour always works best – power dressing: slightly retro, but in this case it worked. Nick Clegg’s orange number wasn’t working for me (although he had the better knot of the three leaders). In my opinion, orange and green ties never work. Gordon Brown’s tie was a muted purple with fine dots, and this would have been okay for day-to-day business but for such an important event, I did think that he (and Clegg) could have found about a thousand better ties to wear.
When the debate started, Clegg called his opponents by their full name ‘David Cameron and Gordon Brown’, there was no faux-chumminess here, like there was in the first debate. Nick Clegg probably used this tactic to separate himself from the others.
David Cameron was the first person to use an audience member’s Christian name, and it became obvious that he was emulating the tactic used by his Liberal rival from the first debate of looking directly into camera to address the audience at home, rather than in the chamber. Clegg did the same thing too, but used his hands much more, moving them towards the camera, drawing us into his way of thinking.
Language-wise, Gordon Brown used much more ministerial language, rather than the other two who went for more down-to-earth speech. Brown often used imperatives, such as ‘let’s be clear’, before addressing a point. This is something similar to what Tony Blair did during his premiership: he was very fond of saying ‘look’ before he addressed a question – but in the latter’s case it was often seen as patronising the audience or questioner.
Linguistically, Clegg used a trick of providing a layman’s explanation of some of the more complicated economic jargon. He told us “capital gains – that’s income to you and me”, this puts him on the level of the audience, a very clever tactic.
Where I felt he did slip us was his determination to address the camera. He would switch a bit too quickly from replying to the questioner from the audience to looking down the camera to the home audience. He did this a lot and it began to look phoney. Clegg also fell down during the economic part of the debate – he started to get a bit hot under the collar and this showed on his face.
Cameron used a minor expletive (‘damn’) to express one particular point; this did add emphasis. What a lot of people were saying on Twitter last night was that there were too many anecdotes from the leaders (Cameron and Clegg in particular) that started, “I recently visited a… ”.
So far in these blogs we haven’t referred to each of the leaders’ makeup. Particularly in the first debate, lots of people commented that Cameron was wearing lovely make-up, and it must be said, he did look the best out of the three of them. I don’t think Brown had very much on; he probably prefers to go for the grittier, natural man sort of look. Cameron’s chin could have done with a touch more powder – it did shine more and more as the debate progressed.
Last night, Cameron clearly won: the polls agree. He also wins our prize for best improvement. Clegg clearly won the first debate – wooing everyone with his charm and naturalness (the heir to Blair is how one Twitterer described him). The second debate had no clear winner but in the final one, Cameron pulled out all of the stops both politically and performance-wise. It will be interesting to see how the three parties do on Thursday.
Tutor, The English Manner