April 29, 2010


Leaders' debate: barring an earthquake, David Cameron is on his way to No 10 (Jonathan Freedland, 4/20/10, The Guardian)

Brown was solid, of course, ramming home his core point that the recovery was too fragile to risk a premature withdrawal of state spending. He was full of detail, rattling off aspects of his rivals' manifestos that suggested he had read those documents closer than they had. Several times he confronted Cameron with a policy dredged from the small print – on, for example, a cut in corporation tax for banks, offset by a withdrawal in support for manufacturing industry – that seemed to come as news to the Tory leader.

Yet only rarely did any of this cut through, as the political professionals put it. Brown was at his best recalling the anger he felt on the eve of the banks' collapse, the decision he had had to take lest the entire financial system crumble, reminding viewers why he was surely the most qualified of the three men on stage to steer the country towards a stable recovery.

Most of the time, though, he spoke a technocratic language that most Britons simply don't speak, rattling off plans and schemes that few people can digest. The cruel reality of the debate format is that it never awards victory according to which candidate lays out the most coherent case on policy. It operates on a different, less logical level; it sells not the message but the messenger. And so, by this test, the battered, exhausted-looking Brown, never able to fix the camera with his gaze, lost once again. Most of the instant polls gave him third place for the third time.

That made Cameron the winner. Every answer was translated into folksy idiom. He wanted school funds "to follow the child across the playground and into the classroom". After Brown had answered a question on immigration with detail on points systems and skill quotas, Cameron cut through with a simple declaration that "immigration has been too high for too long". All evening the Conservative leader spoke in a language people can understand.

On the other trivial measures that settle these things, he scored well too. His posture was right: used now to the format, he no longer looked struck by stagefright as he had in the previous two encounters. On Twitter he won praise for his suit and tie.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 29, 2010 8:02 PM
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