For my taste there was much too much prepared soundbite and especially anecdote in last night’s Prime Ministerial candidates’ debate. I was feeling rotten with flu, which made concentration difficult, but found it pretty dull. The exclusion of the more challenging viewpoints of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and even UKIP made the ground of debate pretty boggy.
But I was of course very pleased with Nick Clegg’s performance, which was much more sparky than I had dared to hope. Having raised the Lib Dem profile as real contenders by winning this first debate, he does not have to win the other two.
The desperate spinning by New Labour and Tories after the event showed that they are now going to have to attack the Lib Dems, and will do so from the position of right wing populism. Alan Johnstone disgracefully was shouting over other post debate interviewees “What about Trident? Trident! Trident!”
It says much about the demise of the Labour Party that it is basing its desperate pleas for continued support on the “need” for a bankrupted country to mortgage its entire future to raise the colossal funding to be able independently to destroy over half the population of the world.
The very proposition is ludicrous. But the “independent” British nuclear deterrent – which may only be fired with US permission – is so much an article of Establishment faith, that they cannot conceive any politician could be voted for who did not wish to maintain and expand it.
All the signs last night, and from Lab-Con parties this morning (Michael Gove having just done it on Sky), are that Trident will be the focus of their attack on the Lib Dems in the next few days, leading up to the next leaders’ debate, which is of course conveniently for them on foreign policy.
Yet there is no sign that the electorate share their unquestioning desire for a massive submarine based nuclear annihilation system, and no evidence that Clegg’s stand on it yesterday damaged his popularity. Clegg should stick to his guns, to use an unfortunate metaphor. Personally I do not like either the policy or morality of his arguing that ditching Trident would free up money needed for Afghanistan, but if asked which is the more important issue, I would unhesitatingly say getting rid of Trident.
Clegg’s problem is that his policy is unclear. No like for like replacement of Trident is a good intention, but what it means is deliberately fudged in order to accommodate the Lib Dems’ crazed militarist wing led by bomber Ming. They will be pressing Clegg to prepare for the next debate by fleshing out ideas for an alternative nuclear deterrent, possibly shared with the French.
Clegg needs to avoid being pushed in that direction. His line on Cold War systems no longer being appropriate is a good one. He should go on the offensive. Cameron twice stated that China is the nuclear power against whom we now have to arm ourselves massively. Clegg should call Cameron out on wanting to start a new cold war against China.
Clegg should also point out, in response to the al-Qaida dirty bomb argument, that Trident is no defence against that scenario and Mutually Assured Destruction is in fact what a suicide bomber wants.
Take my word for it, Trident will be the main focus in the run up to the next debate and in the debate itself. Clegg should go on the offensive in the foreign policy debate, and attack the government for its support of dictatorships abroad, including Uzbekistan.
Clegg should also have a go over extraordinary rendition and torture, and the loss of the UK’s moral standing in the world – including the cover-up over the BAE corruption scandal. He has to get the debate onto his ground. The big two will be looking to steer it on to nuclear weapons and examples of EU excess.
But a good start, which left me still more comfortable with my decision to rejoin and campaign for the Lib Dems.