Our polling cards arrived this morning. Now I know I can vote I'm still a little conflicted about who to vote for. Last night I tuned into ITV to see if I can clear up that confusion.
The debate was certainly livelier than the chancellors debate. Part of that was down to the aggressiveness of the moderator Alistair Stewart. Perhaps he felt he had to cut people off mid-flow to demonstrate he was in control of the debate (despite the times he obviously wasn't) but it annoyed me. I'd prefer the firm but tolerant David Dimbleby who will be moderating the final debate. Although I'm sure all the parties where monitoring talk time awarded to each participant I doubt any of them will complain, it did feel as though Nick Clegg was getting more than his fair share.
The coaching all the participants had gotten was very obvious. Some where making sure to address the camera, some the questioner. All of them employed the trope of recalling anecdotes as part of their response to questions in an effort to "bond" with the audience. After around 60 minutes you started noticing a tendency to fall back on rehearsed lines, David Cameron in particular fell back to the £1 in 100 illustration which I assume is part of the "message" when discussing savings. Gordon Brown had a few prepared jokes up his sleeves, "It's not question time, it's answer time" and "You can't airbrush your policies like your posters", which were actually quite good lines but their delivery came across as very forced much like his occasional rictus smile. Cameron looked uncomfortable and uncertain at points, normally a confident orator I think he found the dead quiet more disconcerting without the noise of the House of Commons behind him. Nick Clegg was by far the most relaxed and confident. He even made some good meta-references to the debate format, breaking the rules by getting acknowledgement from questioners if he was answering in the right way.
By the end it felt as though it had been a long debate. The format is still too restrictive, especially with the strict deadlines on rebuttals forcing them all to stick to prepared soundbite points. While I appreciate the need to be "fair and balanced" all of the participants were clearly frustrated that they couldn't fully develop some of their points.
While Nick Clegg certainly won on style I don't feel he was pressed enough on policy points. He was happy to sit back and take pot shots at Cameron and Brown slugging it out between prepared attacks and quoting statistics. While it payed off for him in this debate I doubt he's going to get off that easily in the next two debates.
I'll be watching the next debate with interest.