Friday 17 April 2015

Miliband won the challengers' debate

Last night's event was called the challengers' debate because neither Cameron nor Clegg were there. Cameron had made it plain that he wasn't going to attend so the BBC didn't invite him. Did you watch it? I suspect not, since it was a bit like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, and only Survation bothered to conduct a poll to decide the winner. Their result was Miliband 37, Sturgeon 31, Farage 27, Bennett 5 and Wood 2.

The only high spot came when Farage made the quite legitimate point that mass immigration means that demand for housing is far outstripping supply, and the audience began to jeer. In other words what we had was a fairly typical, well-fed, ample-bottomed, BBC audience that is made up of people who cannot even imagine what it is like to be anything other than comfortable and middle class.

Farage took the opportunity to claim that the audience was rigged, and the moderator, David Dimbleby pointed out that it had been chosen from a polling company's panel. I suspect that exchange will be tomorrow's headlines as Farage was clearly stumped and struggled to reply

It was rigged of course, since those panels are made up of people like me, who do it out of interest and for the odd few quid that comes our way. That skews things away from your average punter and towards the political animals. Then you have to find people from the panel who live where the debate is taking place and are willing to go to it. That tends to exclude the people who actually work for a living and are tired at the end of the day, or who have to go home to cook a meal and look after the kids. However, it includes the comfortable middle class who spend their days sitting in offices and who may even have nannies to look after their whelps. So no, the BBC did not rig the audience, but that isn't to say that the audience wasn't rigged. That said, Farage got his message out to his people sitting at home, so he probably won't be too bothered about the studio audience.

Sturgeon can also be rather chuffed since she made her visceral hatred of the Tories very plain to everyone. She then went on to invite Miliband to work with her party to ensure that no matter who wins the most seats next month, the scummy Tories are kicked out of office. Obviously, Miliband could not agree to that since he has candidates of his own in Scotland, but his replies were measured and thoughtful, so Labour has plenty of wriggle room after the votes are in.

As for Miliband, he came over very much as a Prime Minster in waiting, which was clearly his intention. I wish he would stop sounding like a satnav's robotic voice, and there were times when I wanted to throw something at the screen when he trotted out the "hard working families" line once to often, but he did enough to encourage Labour voters in England to turn out next month and vote for his party.

Now that the debates are over I think I can conclude that Miliband has done more than enough overall to humanise himself and allow people to see the real Labour man that he is, rather than the caricature that the Tories wanted people to see. He is not as left wing as I would like, but there is enough of the old Labour Party in him to encourage the lost voters to return to the fold.

Sturgeon has been magnificent throughout and has shown time and again that this is not about independence, it really is about getting the Tories out and putting some stiffening into Labour's backbone. 

Farage comes in third in my list. During the course of these debates he has done enough to steady his vote at around 14 percent and halt what seemed to be a steady decline into oblivion. Whether that decline will start again is another matter, but it is true to say that UKIP's position at the moment owes everything to him.

With three weeks to go, everything is still to play for.

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