Five Quick Thoughts on the Leaders’ Debate (in no particular order)

by Elias Blum

1. With seven party leaders all vying for our votes the days of ‘two party’ politics are now well and truly over. They all know that they are unlikely to win outright and might need allies, and that makes them a bit less prickly and a bit more sensible. However, without proportional representation and a clear process for post-election government formation, the results in terms of who wins office might bear little relation to the votes cast, which could have deleterious consequences for legitimacy. If there was one thing all the seven leaders should have been able to agree on, it is that we need proportional representation as never before (although Cameron, Miliband, and perhaps Sturgeon, being the winners from FPTP, would need some convincing).

2. Likewise, the days when politics happened in London and the ‘Celtic Fringe’ could be ignored are over. Britain has changed. Scotland and Wales are finding a distinctive voice. But we still don’t have a system for resolving these differences. The plans on offer – implementation of the Smith Commission and English Votes for English Laws – simply don’t do enough to rectify the situation. The reconstituting of the UK could be a major issue after the general election, especially if the SNP hold the balance of power, and it would be good if they talked about it a bit.

3. They are not all the same. Genuinely different policies, perspectives and priorities were on offer, from lunatic xenophobic right wing fucknuttery to pretty radical eco-socialist politics, and lots in between. The economic left-right dimension has definitely returned. We had major party leaders talking about wages, poverty, job security, housing, and other bread-and-butter issues as never before. There’s a growing sense that neo-liberalism let us down and that the economic model that benefits the rich is failing most of us. There’s a clear line of separation on general economic approach between UKIP, the Tories and the LibDems, on the right, and the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens on the left. Labour are in the centre now, although Ed Miliband was at his most convincing on issues of living standards for ordinary families and would probably like to move further to the left if it were not for the risk of alienating soft-pink liberal voters in Southern England.

4. In terms of presence, charisma and confidence, Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage came off well (I mean, I don’t like him or agree with him, but he was good at playing to the gallery), followed by Nick Clegg, and Leanne Wood, with Natalie Bennett and Ed Miliband bringing up the rear. Natalie Bennett is nothing compared to her Scottish Green counterpart, Patrick Harvie. I warmed to Ed Miliband a bit when he spoke about substance, but his style is flat and he comes across as weak and a bit brittle. David Cameron stood aside from all this, just looking very, very smug. Of course, none of this has very much to do with how good they would be at actually running the government: good salesmen are not necessarily good statesmen.

5. The questions were a bit limited in scope, covering only economy / finance / employment, health, education / student debt / youth opportunities, and Europe / immigration. There was nothing about the environment or sustainability, constitutional issues, human rights, social issues, or foreign policy. Maybe these will be covered in the next debate. I thought the interjection from the audience member who tried to ask a question about homelessness was the best part of the debate; they should have answered her.