I really enjoyed yesterday’s liveblogging. 4,426 unique viewers dropped in.
In retrospect, the strongest impression was of Sky News’ Tory bias. The most startling moment was when Adam Boulton, the moderator, brought up yesterday’s Daily Telegraph slur about Nick Clegg.
But the directorial bias was what stayed with me. There was a telling moment when Cameron told a very weak “joke” indeed, and the Director instantly cut to three smartly dressed people in the audience who were improbably laughing uproariously. It happened again later, cut so quickly it must have been pre-arranged. When Brown was speaking, there was a lingering cut on a man yawning.
Sky had chosen the questions, and here the bias could not have been more open. The first question was a Europhobic one, designed to launch the debate on what they believe to be the Tories’ strongest ground. The phrasing of the second was remarkable – from memory “As leader, would you be prepared to take the tough decisions required to keep this country safe, by joining in multilateral military action to root out terrorism.” It was pure Fox News stuff.
[BREAKING NEWS – I have had Sky News on for half an hour. First they had a paper review with one Labour journalist and one Tory (Sun) journalist. No Liberal. Then they had Tory frontbencher William Hague and Labour frontbencher Douglas Alexander on to discuss the debate. No Liberal. Apparently dead to irony, the Sky newscaster asked them “In the interests of politicial balance, would you two like to comment on Nick Clegg’s perfomance”. Absolutely beyond parody.]
Back to the debate.
The other directorial trick Sky used was in cutting from speakers. The appeal of Nick Clegg talking direct to camera having been much discussed last week, the Sky director chopped him up, cutting rapidly around whenever he was talking. It was most evident in the closing statements, which Cameron did straight to camera. While Clegg was doing his closing statement we saw at different times the audience, his back and a Sky News caption. Cameron was given more “sincere face time” from the director throughout.
The most stunning moment of Sky bias was when Adam Boulton dredged up from his position as moderator the Daily Telegraph smear against Nick Clegg.
On substance, I thought Clegg the most impressive and Brown much better than expected. Cameron did OK, but no more than that. After the ground was so carefully prepared for him, the Tories must be in despair at his inability to shine,
Clegg’s opening statement was brilliant and absolutely different in tone and substance. His mention of conspiracy to torture, Iraq and the abandonment of British values in our foreign policy was the seam he should have mined. But then he allowed himself to be boxed in by the terms of debate set by Sky. That loaded pro-foreign wars question is where he should have broken out and queried whether illegal invasion, torture, bombing of civilians and invasion of Muslim lands, do not cause terrorism here rather than protect us from it.
But he didn’t. Instead he talked about the need for better equipment. I think there are two explanations. First I think he is anxious not to seem weak on defence. Secondly I think he is in any event less naturally liberal than whoever drafted his opening statement. Clegg tends to the bomber Ming Campbell wing of the party.
But on Trident, the two parties ganging up on him will have done him no harm, and hopefully have led some more Labour supporters to wonder why they are backing such a right wing party.
Both Clegg and Brown took on the shallow Tory Europhobia head on. The failure of this to boost Cameron in the polls must dent the Tory confidence that anti-Europeanism is a trump card. Clegg forcefully attacked Cameron’s alliance with right wing nutters in the European parliament and Cameron was pretty stumped, making the weak point that they had not attacked Lech Kaczynski when he had just died. I worry a bit about how many viewers knew what Clegg was talking about here.
A final thought. Alex Salmond got to make a few media appearances afterwards and showed the strength of a more forceful line against Trident and the War on Terror. Also some much harder blows on Gordon Brown.