April 15, 2010 / 9:40 PM / 9 years ago

Instant view: Britain's election leadership debate

MANCHESTER (Reuters) - A new era in British politics began on Thursday with the first televised debate between the main candidates for prime minister.

Following are comments from analysts after the 90-minute debate between British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Conservative leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrat head Nick Clegg:

STEVE SCHIFFERES, PROFESSOR OF FINANCIAL JOURNALISM, CITY UNIVERSITY LONDON

“The whole thing was much more heat than light on the debate. The parties were arguing over 6 billion pounds of expenditure when the real issue is what to do with 167 billion pounds of expenditure.

“It is striking the way Labour went on the attack... saying the Tories are the party of cuts, we are the party of spending, when Labour itself is proposing 40 billion pounds of cuts.

“Nick Clegg got a free ride, because the two other parties were repeating old arguments and no one really challenged the Lib Dems on their economic policies.

“Clegg did better as a performer than people expected. Cameron did less well than people expected — expectations were higher. Brown held his own in a way that people perhaps didn’t expect.”

SIMON LEE, SENIOR LECTURER IN POLITICS, HULL UNIVERSITY

“Obviously the clear winner was Nick Clegg. Right from the start he was the first to speak, he established his platform, he wanted to show the audience there was an alternative to the two old parties... His tactics throughout were to put the other two parties together as being roadblocks to change on reforming politics, dealing with urgent matters.

“He emerged from this first debate as the overall winner.

“Gordon Brown managed to cause David Cameron some very uncomfortable moments when he pointed out the Conservatives guaranteeing the NHS will have real term increases in resources means that for education and policing in England there will have to be cuts. Cameron had no real response to that.

“Brown was very much emphasizing his record... his experience with regards to the economy and not putting the recovery at risk. He was campaigning on his record.

“Cameron was right from the start talking about the need for change... He scored best where he emphasized waste in government spending.

“The two main party leaders will have to be a little more aggressive toward Nick Clegg (in the next two debates). Both were trying to court Nick Clegg’s opinion, and the more they said ‘I agree with Nick’, that made Nick Clegg’s position stronger. (It was as if) they were hedging their bets anticipating a hung parliament and trying to portray themselves as being closer to the Liberal Democrats than the other party.”

PHILIP SHAW, CHIEF ECONOMIST AT INVESTEC

“It was a reasonably entertaining one and a half hours. None of the three made a major gaffe though I am not sure that we learned very much new about the parties’ respective policies.

“As a media event it was relatively successful. It will be interesting to see how much new is discussed in the next two debates given tonight’s debate contained a fair amount of discussion.”

TIM BALE, SENIOR LECTURER IN POLITICS, SUSSEX UNIVERSITY

“I think I would probably not be going out on a limb to say that Nick Clegg came over clearly the most strongly this evening. He played both men against each other incredibly well. He appealed to the sensible middle ground of politics, he appealed continually for honesty and realism, a common sense approach to our problems, and he let the other two argue...

Gordon Brown did reasonably well. He rose above what were probably very low expectations on the part of the public. He rammed home his message, which was that a Conservative government is a risky option.

I think David Cameron probably actually disappointed people. He had a tough task, because so much was expected of him, but I think he came over as perhaps less realistic, less tough, as someone trying to concentrate on values and personality rather than get into the nitty gritty. While it is not a disaster for David Cameron by any means, I think most Conservatives will be a little disappointed. But he had the most difficult job tonight.”

“It was terribly predictable the way the all started telling stories about people they’d met, it was terribly predictable they continually mentioned the names of the people in the audience who were asking the questions. They were all very much on best behavior. It didn’t really get tetchy until they started dealing with the economy and the deficit, which is of course the most difficult area.”

Reporting by Sumeet Desai, Clara Ferreira-Marques and Keith Weir

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