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Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Debates - first impressions

We've had the first debate of a campaign that I have argued might change or define the 2010 General Election campaign. I may be wrong. Last night's first debate between the would-be Chancellors was essentially a score draw. Vince Cable scored slightly higher (36%) than Osborne or Darling (both around 33%) but essentially there were no clangers dropped, the time flew and all escaped unscathed. In a sense, the debate was pretty sterile (one Tweet commented that British personalities do not lend themselves to an American style of debating) and merely confirmed all the opinion polling on the public's preference for Chancellor.

We learned too of the great opportunity in the debates for the Lib Dems (the "plague on both your houses" card, along with gentle humour, was a key aspect of Cable's game plan); and we learned that, despite all the excitement of simply having debates, the format is stilted and doesn't allow the opportunity for in-depth argument, comeback or audience opposition. This debate felt pretty controlled, the debaters talking to themselves rather than interacting with the audience in the way that we're used to on Question Time. Six or seven rounds of applause last night. In the real debates between the prospective PM's, even applause will be against the rules. There were a few challenges (one could hardly call them clashes) between the candidates, but we're unlikely to see anything dramatic.

My hunch remains, though, that with over four hours of Leader's debates, in the cut and thrust of a busy campaign, we're likely to see a clanger dropped. It might just prove momentum shifting. The Chancellor's Debate was merely a perfect reflection of where we are.

PREDICTION: Conservative majority of 15

Blair returned to domestic politics today. A decent critique of the Tory putative manifesto. Could have real traction - it neutralises the Blair/Brown feud as an issue, reminds voters that Gordon was once a winner (with Blair, and ensures that the man who onced wooed Middle England is now telling Middle England to have a long hard look at the Tories. They just might.

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