Leaders’ debate could play out in favour of Libdems

April 21, 2010

MarkHillaryMark Kobayashi-Hillary is the author of several books, including ‘Who Moved my Job?’ and ‘Global Services: Moving to a Level Playing Field’. He is participating in the Reuters Election 2010 politics live blog during the leaders’ debates and on election night. The opinions expressed are his own. –

It’s time for the second leaders’ debate on Thursday evening. This one will focus on international affairs, so it’s likely Prime Minister Gordon Brown will be on the defensive when talking about Afghanistan, Iraq, and the continued need for cold-war era nuclear weapons, such as Trident.

Those issues play straight into the sweet spot of the Liberal Democrats. Anti-war and anti-nuclear since before anyone can remember, Nick Clegg has a golden opportunity to further boost the image of his party and fuel the ‘Cleggmania’ that has swept the UK since the first leaders’ debate last week.

I’ve had email from as far afield as the U.S. and India asking me about Clegg, so foreign correspondents have done a good job informing the world that this election is not just a two-horse race.

But the prime minister should have received a rougher ride than he got in the first debate. Clegg’s style won the day, but some of the Brown substance the Labour party tells us about did shine through. And it forced Conservative leader David Cameron into a box.

The ITV ‘worm’ was tracking voter sentiment in real-time and Cameron’s strongest support was when he was tough on immigration, taking a hard-line on the ‘British jobs for British workers’ debate.

But that’s what the former Tory leader Michael Howard used to do. Preach traditional Tory values and play to the party membership. Cameron was the breath of fresh air, the leader who could make the Conservatives electable.

If he thinks that straying away from the New Labour middle ground at this late stage is going to win votes then perhaps he should concede defeat now.

Maybe Conservative London Mayor Boris Johnson should have a crack at the job, as he has won the support of many sceptical Londoners who never believed he could run the city effectively.

What really surprised me about the first debate was how little attention the expected cuts to the public sector received.

Much of the Whitehall back office is slated to be privatised (creating shared service centres in the management jargon) and cuts are expected across many departments and agencies, but perhaps the electorate feels it’s going to happen whoever is next in charge?

So the Conservatives appear to have broken their election rudder, Labour is steady-as-she-goes, and the LibDems are enjoying their ascendancy to importance.

With our first-past-the-post voting system and their support spread nationally like a thin layer of golden butter, there is no chance of a Lib Dem majority, but a surge in support for Clegg means we are aiming for another Labour government or a hung parliament in which a Lab-Lib coalition will carve up power between them.

Cameron must be wondering what on earth he needs to do to convince an electorate tired of 13 years with Labour that he is offering a credible alternative. The great British public just don’t seem convinced.

One comment

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It is shocking that in a supposed democracy some political parties are excluded from these debates. And we UK voters don’t elect a president, we vote for our constituency MP. It’s an affront to us that the BBC are paying these facts such scant regard. And it’s breaking its OWN rules on impartiality in so doing. Shame on the broadcaster, that it is being so reckless with its reputation. But more so, the public’s right to democracy is being lost. That’s beyond shame, it’s a disgrace.

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