Clegg walked it

Debates do not decide an election. Voters do. However there were a number of surprises about the first of the Party Leaders debates on ITV last night.

Firstly a programme on ITV that was not Pop Idol or Coronation Street secured more than 10 million viewers. 10 million viewers on a late night ITV slot is a good achievement in itself. Secondly this was a politics programme lasting just over an hour and a half. Films do not retain that level of interest normally – never mind politics.

There were no real knock out punches and the great hulking fist of Gordon Brown was nowhere to be seen. Another Blair promise in tatters.

Brown & Cameron spent their time sniping at each other. Gordon Brown was claiming that there would be a bright rosy future under Labour with no cuts and that the wicked Tories would just impose cuts, cuts and more cuts. He obviously still refuses to listen to his own Chancellor who has promised cuts far harsher than those imposed under the Government of Margaret Thatcher. Clegg was therefore free to appear above the fray and look more like a statesman than the other two.

Brown looked increasingly desperate and was trying too hard to secure a Lib / Lab pact on live tv. Clegg had none of it. When Brown suggested that the Liberal Democrats agreed with Labour gerrymandering the voting system in their favour, Clegg shrugged him off.

At the end of the debate, I still know nothing about Cameron, other than he is not Gordon Brown. Cameron and Clegg are at least honest about public spending and Cameron was indeed right to say that the police should pay for police officers and not £75,000 Lexus cars.

Clegg identified real savings. The thousands of civil servants in the MOD and in the NHS who do little to help our troops or hospitals. Brown was in his own World failing to face the damage that HE himself created.

THis was good television. It was not Obama meeting with the Republicans (which was must see tv), but it was a good fumble in the dark.

I have no doubt that the other debates will be better. The Leaders will watch the debates and they will train up on areas that they went wrong. From last night though, Peter Mandelson will need to do a lot of shouting at Brown to kick him in to shape.

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