Now the dust is starting to settle after the first debate, who are the winners and losers – aside from the party leaders?
Winner – liberalism
Loser – hostility to foreigners
Praising some aspects of immigration, talking about no like-for-like replacement of Trident, pledging to scrap tuition fees, promising to cut taxes for most by raising taxes for the very rich – Nick Clegg won the debate not by abandoning policies for some mushy middle ground, but by sticking to core liberal beliefs.
Those beliefs were carefully wrapped in language and arguments designed to be appeal to a wide audience – but here was a high profile demonstration that done properly, liberal arguments can be made and won.
(I suspect a significant degree of the credit for this should go to John Sharkey, one of Nick’s most trusted advisers, who has been a consistent advocate of using arguments and styles that reach out to wider audiences.)
On the immigration question it was striking that Brown was very negative about immigration, Clegg had something positive to say – and Cameron only had something positive to say after he’d seen Clegg take the positive route. Clegg and Cameron finished in a statistical tie (with Cameron notionally just ahead) on their immigration comments – a clear sign that a well-argued liberal case can win public support.
Winner – TV
Loser – internet
The TV audience peaked at just under 10m, far more than any online audience for a UK political event. TV kept on broadcasting whilst Facebook and Tweetminster buckled under the load.
Winner – Times and Telegraph
Loser – Mirror
All three had to face a poll result that didn’t suit their editorial line. The Times and Daily Telegraph reported the result fairly and prominently. The Mirror’s front page was about how great Brown is.
Winner – Iain Dale
Loser – Tim Montgomerie
Iain praised Nick Clegg’s performance and rated him the winner whilst Tim tweeted wondering if Nick Clegg had been given an unfair amount of air time.
Winner – proper polling companies
Loser – voodoo polls
The voodoo polls (i.e. those where anyone can vote and it’s easy to vote more than once) were quickly eclipsed by instant polls from reputable companies.
Winner – unofficial Liberal Democrat Facebook group
Loser – official Conservative Facebook page
Helped by the debate, the already strongly growing Facebook group surged onwards and now has comfortably more members than the Conservative Page has fans.
Winner – #iagreewithnick
Loser – Brown’s soundbites
Normally the defining moments of a political debate come from spot on soundbites or awful clangers. This time it was something complete different; just four simple words that most of the time would be unexceptional: “I agree with Nick”. But said repeatedly, they became the notable catchphrase of the event and have spawned a wave of online enthusiasm in messages, tweets and sales of unofficial branded merchandise.
This has also drowned up what were actually a couple of fairly good soundbites from Gordon Brown. Uttered at PMQs the lines about airbrushing and Answer Time would have made for good evening news clips.