Thursday, 22 April 2010

Still a 3-way race

Polls following last night's television debate show pretty much a three-way split in terms of who won. Some put Dave Cameron ahead, others put Nick Clegg in front. All of them put Gordon Brown in third place, although he improved his ratings from the previous debate. No one delivered a knockout blow and there is still everything to play for in the last debate.

Dave Cameron was more relaxed and focused than in the previous debate, although sometimes his attempts to sound prime ministerial put him on the sidelines a little. He was probably at his strongest in Europe, although the inability of the Conservatives to deliver a referendum on the Lisbon treaty was a weak point. He also clearly felt a little awkward about some of his allies in the European Parliament. However, he scored some points against Labour making false claims about Conservative policies in leaflets (one of these distributed in Gordon Brown's own constituency according to Alex Salmond later). Brown said that he had not authorised the leaflets and the Conservatives are clearly going to press on this question today.

Nick Clegg held his ground well, gave a confident performance and once again addressed members of the audience more directly than the other two. He was perhaps in greatest difficulty over Trident where Dave Cameron said 'I agree with Gordon' and Gordon Brown urged Clegg to 'get real'. It was not clear what the Lib Dem policy was, other than to have a wide ranging defence review after the election which any party could and should hold. He managed to put Dave under some pressure over immigration by pressing him on what his cap actually was.

Gordon Brown managed to get in his soundbite about Dave being 'a risk to the economy' more than once. He also referred to Cameron's policies being a 'big society at home, little Britain abroad'. (Once again we heard little from Dave about the 'big society' except in his opening statement). Brown's charge that Clegg was 'anti-American', repeated twice, was a little odd: what Clegg is asking for is a different kind of relationship with the United States. At times Brown sounded a bit clunky, as when when he addressed a pensioner questioner on the lines of 'women, and you are a woman.'

One of the trickiest questions was about the Pope's visit to Britain and the failings and policies of the Catholic church. I thought that all three leaders answered this well, but also it was the point when Gordon Brown came across most authentically when he talked about his Presbyterian values. This is much more effective than reciting figures or listing the policies put in place.

The Lib Dems have failed to get the momentum which get them towards 35 per cent in the polls and the chance of winning a really significant number of seats. At the moment Labour is losing the campaign but the Conservatives are not really winning it or brushing off the Lib Dem challenge.


Anonymous said...


Has your view of a potential Conservative win changed with these debates and subsequent impact?

Wyn Grant said...

One thing we are clearly not going to see is an overall Labour majority. Labour is not currently doing well. However, with the current poll split it is difficult to work out how that it is translate into seats, e.g., Liberal Democrats could come unexpectedly from nowhere in some seats. My current guess is that the Conservatives will have the largest number of seats, but not an overall majority. They would find negotiation with the Lib Dems difficult and with the Nationalists for that matter, although the Democratic Unionists are possibly more biddable. However, there is still time for the Lib Dem surge to be undermined.

Anonymous said...

The other interesting thing is the impact of these debates on potential voter turnout on May 6. Have there been any studies on this? What could be the potential turnout in the election this year?

Wyn Grant said...

I haven't seen any specific studies on the impact on turnout, but I would expect it to be positive given that some Lib Dem votes may come fromn those who would not otherwise have voted. The closeness of the contest should also boost turnout. There is some evidence that the expenses scandal has made voters more rather than less likely to vote. But all this may mean just a few percentage points increase to around 65 per cent