Second Leaders Debate – Nick Clegg loses his charm

The 2010 United Kingdom general election debates consist of a series of three leaders’ debates conducted on live television between the leaders of the three main parties contesting the 2010 United Kingdom general election. The second debate was notionally on Foreign Policy and Defence though notably light on both given its nearly two hour slot.

So, what of significance was said, did it have any merit, and who came out ahead?

First the presentation:

This blog is aware that everybody developed a crush on Nick Clegg after the first debate, so one is duty bound comment on the irrelevance of presentation; all three came across quite well with the exception of some obvious blather from Cameron and a trademark scary gurn from Gordon Brown, but no one was stand-out.

Second the message:

What core message were they trying to imprint on the consciousness of the electorate?

Cameron: I’m really totally different from these two, and Clegg is just like Brown.

Brown: I’m a statesman, and the other guys are dangerous mavericks.

Clegg: I’m new and vigorous, and i’ll demonstrate this by interrupting people a lot.

Third the Policies:

Opening statements –

Brown was foolish to say he counted himself out of a popularity contest, as it came across as negative and defeatist.

Cameron produced too much blather that skirted around the edges of his Big Society theme without providing any grist, but some good messages.

Clegg laboured on about climate change, which may fall flat with an electorate that if not sceptical of the science is tired of the evangelism.

Winner = None

Loser = Clegg (-1)

How the leaders would tackle EU interference –

Clegg wanted to lead from the centre, which is not a message that many will appreciate given the reality of that is ever-deeper-union, and prey on that fear that Britain is too small to stand alone.

Brown presented himself as the essential linch-pin binding America to Europe, which was an attractive message against the anti-euro Dave and anti-yank Clegg, and peddled the ridiculous fear that all trade with europe might cease.

Cameron came out with the strongest argument, that the others basically didn’t trust the electorate and continue to treat them like children.

Winner = Cameron (+1)

Loser = None

How the leaders would fix immigration –

Brown was doing quite well until he mentioned ID cards as the suspicion will be that what starts with one group will rapidly become the burden of all.

Clegg came across very badly by banging on about organised crime creating slave labour with illegal immigrants, apparently unaware that people have a problem with the illegal immigrants being here in the first place, not tertiary matters that don’t affect them.

Cameron was doing okay until he mentioned the poles, which was only done to point out the discrepancy between government predictions and reality over numbers, but struck a jarring note regardless.

Winner = None

Loser = Clegg (-1)

How the leaders would restore faith in politics –

Cameron pedalled the message that all were to blame for the expenses scandal which put a hole under Cleggs waterline, and then solidly defended FPTP which made Brown look servile due to his parties flirtation with coalitions.

Clegg went on about how the Lib-Dems were the ‘new’ party as if that somehow meant that they were exempt from scrutiny over the expenses scandal, and as a message fell flat.

Brown put on a strong performance against poor conduct in politics and strong measures to prevent it, whilst promising a referendum, and while this blog vehemently disagrees with the prescription of ever more convoluted legislation in place of personal integrity, it was probably the strongest message.

Winner = Brown (+1)

Loser = Clegg (-1)

How the leaders would deal with a hung parliament –

Clegg tried to make a hung parliament sound like a good thing and persuade electorate that it would be a positive result, but didn’t do a convincing job.

Brown came across somewhat schizophrenic by appearing to accept the the wisdom of the electorate, but attacking Clegg as dangerous.

Cameron made the clearest case that a hung parliament would be a disaster, but weakened the message by pandering to the electorate.

Winner = Cameron (+1)

Loser = None

The future of Britain’s Strategic Deterrent –

Both Cameron and Brown rightly criticized Clegg for failing to see the value of the strategic deterrent, and Cameron got in a blow about the Lib-Dems willingness to cede our UN Security Council seat to europe.

Winner = Cameron (+1)

Loser = Clegg (-1)

Closing Statements –

Brown did a good job of portraying himself a dependable and capable centrist, straddling the atlantic and free of the security failings of Clegg and the isolationist failings of Cameron.

Cameron made a strong play that the only way to provide a clean break from the past was an unambiguous Conservative victory at the election.

Clegg made a pretty attractive argument that voting Lib-Dem will break open the cartel of politics as it currently exists.

Winner = None

Loser = None


Scores on the doors –

Clegg (-4)

Brown (+1)

Cameron (+3)

Cameron came out on top, and Clegg was certainly the weakest, but there wasn’t much to separate the pack and one wonders if it will be enough to turn the tide of voter infatuation with the Lib-Dems…………?

The real failure of the debate however was the total omission of any discussion touching on Britain’s place in the world, and the Foriegn Policy and Defence objectives necessary to realise it. This is a tragic waste.

6 responses to “Second Leaders Debate – Nick Clegg loses his charm

  1. I just got this link by reading a daily telegraph link. It is a very convincing way to analyse the debate and I wish the more cerebral press commentators had done this. However, the majority of the public watching will take it on gut feeling – which over two weeks puts Clegg in a good position, Cameron too, and Brown is simply unliked on a gut level. I understand that he sneered repeatedly when Cameron spoke.

  2. My thanks, whether the electorate will vote with their current enthusiasm is the question on everyone’s lips; will the soft surge be transformed into votes.

    I’ll be spineless and say half and half; in that a significant proportion of people who weren’t going to vote before, now will, but it may not be for the lib-dems.

  3. Ref: “The future of Britain’s Strategic Deterrent –

    Both Cameron and Brown rightly criticized Clegg for failing to see the value of the strategic deterrent, and Cameron got in a blow about the Lib-Dems willingness to cede our UN Security Council seat to europe.”

    But in the bigger picture, of UK politics in general, public opinion and budgetary restraints, what is actually wrong with ceding the UK’s permanent seat on the UNSC to someone else ? I would rather pass to India than Europe, but hey, thats just me.

    You finish with: “The real failure of the debate however was the total omission of any discussion touching on Britain’s place in the world, and the Foriegn Policy and Defence objectives necessary to realise it. This is a tragic waste.” Absolutely on the spot, and agree entirely with this statement, which is why I find your take on Clegg and the deterrent a bit odd. If we are not pushing this debate forward, why be negative about a party and its leader that is being honest about breaking the status-qou ? I don’t think “great power status” and permanent member of the UNSC should just be tied to “nuclear power status”. UNSC is a farce the way it’s currently setup for veto based power wielding anyway.

    So, even if I would not vote Lib-dem, good on them for at least being honest !

  4. Good points, but i don’t believe that UNSC is merely a function of nukes, something I had hoped would be more apparent given the time I spend talking about the RUSI doctrines.

    As to the maintenance of Great Power status; it is by definition a good thing if it can be afforded because in this world you either shape world events to reflect your image, or you accept that world events will be shaped by someone else in theirs.

    The UNSC does indeed need reform, something I will address at a later date, but whatever its eventual format I would hope to see Britain in there, and I would expect to see the electorate support this stance.

  5. I am an Indian guy, who has nothing to do with UK or its politics…I just started following for the heck of it.

    From what I noted as a rank outsider,

    Brown is a pretty solid guy, he knows a certain amount of facts, and despite rampant anti-incumbency, manages to pull in a decent performance. (of course, I dont know the extent of his involvement in creating the economic problems facing Britain)

    Clegg, obviously is a breath of fresh air, who swooped people off their feet…but from the way he talks, I could make out that he is sincere, but too naive for his own good. The part about UK’s nuke deterrent was a big FAIL for Clegg and he better do some damage control about it. (PS : Does he object to UK possessing nuke weapons at all, or is it just the Trident thing ?)

    David Cameron sounded like he is the guy with the greatest amount of rhetoric and least number of facts… Some of his arguments like reducing the size of the parliament to cut costs sounded downright ludicrous. But he did sound knowledgeable on Afghanistan

    I think a Clegg who doesnt compromise on the nuke deterrent will be a good choice for PM

    I know that British system is almost the same as the Indian parliamentary system and therefore, Clegg may not get enough seats to form a coalition govt, and bargain for the post of PM (let alone win a majority on his own for the lib-dems)

    just my 2 rupees 😀

  6. Hi RandomDude,

    Very nice to have an outside viewpoint, and a viewpoint from India is always welcome in particular.

    Browns big problem is that his party is the long time incumbent and he himself has little sex appeal.
    I would be tempted to say that he should be held accountable for the train-wreck of the economy, but we are talking about the electorate here, not me, and they view the matter through the prism of tory hatred and misplaced credit for the boom years in the early nought’ies.
    There is a famous quote from when Gordon Brown first stepped into office as Chancellor in 1997, he was informed that the Tories had left him an economy in tip-top condition, his reply was to snarl; “what do you want me to do, send them a fucking thank you letter?”
    The point being is that I doubt George Osborne if he enters office will be given the same reassurance over the previous administrations economic competence.

    Clegg is an orange-booker, which means that he is one of the few Lib-Dems who realise that the party is supposed to be about old-style liberalism, or libertarianism as its know known, rather than the failed paternal statism that has demonstrably failed time and again in the last hundred years. Unfortunately he has yet to drag the rest of his party with him, they are as you say far too naive.

    Cameron does come across as all rhetoric, which is a problem, however he really does need to explain that big-idea stuff because wasting 45% of GDP (pre-crisis) on Gov’t spending and wasting 3% of GDP (pre-crisis) on Deficit spending is unsustainable. According to the bank of international settlements Britain is on course for a national debt of 350% of GDP by 2040, even if the parties enact all of their currently announced spending cuts. This would cripple growth and destroy living standards, so we really do need a new not-state-dependent model of operating society.

    Many thanks for your comments.

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