I watched all of the Sky News Leaders' Debate but via the BBC News Channel because the picture was less cluttered (I wonder when these TV channels realise that we want to see a clear and clean picture?).
When it ended I thought, hum, Gordon Brown seemed to have just won, with David Cameron second and Nick Clegg third, and that's despite me being Liberal Democrat in voting intention. Clegg did turn immigration around to his success, to include a question unanswered by the others, but he did have to stave off attack and both of the others improved their game. There was a lot of fast talking and learnt body language. I felt that Gordon Brown landed some punches - particularly the quip of Cameron weak on the economy and Clegg on defence, and his "get real", though I actually agree with Clegg that Trident is over costly for any independent nuclear deterrent based on a different strategic world, if we should have such at all.
But it seems that the viewing world did not agree with me. Two or three polls still put Clegg first, and one put Cameron first with Clegg and Brown equal second.
Two old friends in Hull have dropped into their Labourite tribal logic and continue their anti-hung parliament rhetoric, despite a 'nepotism' element in the Labour candidate choice after Prescott in East Hull (and where Liberal Democrats have built a local base in Hull, and could do well). I said to them in the first week, about their dismissal of the Liberal Democrats: "Don't you be so sure." Now, at this point, even my optimism for the Liberal Democrats might be too timid.
Should there be a hung parliament, given that the polling does translate into voting (and if only in some constituencies, that means it is even more effective), it will come with strange features. The first is that the Tories' mountain to climb to win means that with a same or higher share of the vote they should come second to Labour in seats. The Liberal Democrats, without concentrated constituency by constituency swings, have even more to do to translate votes into seats - it is only at about 40% that suddenly a Liberal Democrat landslide comes, and until then they get poor returns. Thus Labour comes third and can 'win'.
If this happens then there is a crisis for the so-called winning party, and a consequence for legitimacy is the necessity of a coalition and actually the removal of Gordon Brown. Indeed, there are some skulduggery theorists who say that Peter Mandelson is deliberately running a campaign to this end, and why Labour cosies more or less to the Liberal Democrats.
The logic runs like this. Labour could lose its majority but is likely the biggest party. It could regain a majority by having a broader left coalition via the main progressive forces. If this happens, Labour to woo the Liberal Democrats would ditch Gordon Brown for a broad left and constitutional moderniser, probably not David Miliband (I always remember Ralph Miliband, the socialist writer) but Alan Johnson (also based in Hull). Gordon Brown might cling on, given his attachment to power, but then the Queen can call for a different Labour politician who becomes Prime Minister for a loose or firm coalition, and thus could be someone like Johnson. That would bypass Gordon Brown, who would then have to give up because he really wants power over government.
What the Conservative Party would do isn't clear. It might bleat a lot, but then it was never sufficiently in favour of electoral reform. It could, of course, suddenly become a convert to electoral reform to have power after all these years and save David Cameron's bacon. But if a different left Prime Minister emerged, having the party support representing over 50% of voters, the Conservative Party could be in turmoil. It would still be out of power, and the leftish facing Cameron would have failed after all the right wingers. That is why he is nervous, because the Conservative Party might not survive. After all, there remains sufficient lack of trust in what it represents: the damage that the wreckless John Major and dogmatic Margaret Thatcher did seemingly impossible to overcome even after all this time.
This maybe is what is in the devious Mandelson's mind: reconciled himself to a drop in the vote and numbers of Labour MPs, he can see how it works out to put the Conservatives in desperate contradiction. He sees a Blairite future thanks to Liberal Democrat support (he might be wrong here - they have stronger radical tendencies). The broad left outcome could reorganise the Conservative Party still adrift, for a centre-left to be different from the right wing tendency. In the end, this is the nervousness - even desperation - of David Cameron. Plus he will be blamed as a front runner for stupidly saying yes to these debates that 'let Clegg in' and have lit the electoral revolution, and which he is desperate to stop by his demand for a majority and nothing else.
It is just possible that this election is the one by which the Liberal Democrats, after their steady building, achieve their ends at last, and this after many had thought their MP numbers would go down.
Well: we're not there yet, but it is really quite exciting. And when you look at Nick Clegg at other election events he does carry himself well, speak confidently and is up on his brief, and he is prepared to use direct language as required. So he shouldn't be nervous at the final debate, but perhaps Cameron will be.
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