Kudos to Clegg: the TV debates wash-up

Three programmes, four-and-a-half hours of debate, endless analysis – but one thing’s for sure: Nick Clegg is alone among the three leaders in being able to reflect on them with real pleasure.

David Cameron and the Tories are buoyed by his performance yesterday; understandably so, as most instant polls called it a ‘win’ for him. But three weeks ago the Tories were polling in the 36-39% range, with most pundits predicting a narrow-but-decisive Tory majority. Currently, just a few days before polling day, the Tories are stuck in the 33-36% range.

Perhaps more significant, though is the way Cameron has had to re-write his script during this campaign. Tory advisors hoped it would be enough for their leader to portray himself as the only alternative to Gordon Brown. But then along came ‘Cleggmania’ and suddenly Cameron looked old hat: the mantle of change was snatched away from him by a more dynamic rival. With ratings dipping, the Tories’ answer was familiar enough: turn to the right.

And that’s exactly what Cameron has done. In the third debate last night, he showed the authentic face of Toryism: anti-European, anti-immigrant, anti-welfare. No wonder he looked more comfortable, and no wonder the Tory tribe was smiling today. At long last, their leader had ditched any pretence of building a big-tent mainstream party, and was reverting to the party’s comfort zone, shoring up its core vote.

But of this I am certain: that right-wing c.2005 Michael Howard display from Cameron last night was absolutely not where he wanted to be at this stage of the campaign. He wanted still to be faking it as that rather nice, small-l-liberal, metropolitan Conservative. Instead he has re-toxified the Tory brand in three weeks. If he wins a small majority, God knows what forces of conservatism will be unleashed by his party’s uber-right-wing.

And what of the man who has driven the Tories’ campaign to the right – Nick Clegg – why do I credit him with real kudos? Because he has, almost miraculously, completely stolen Cameron’s thunder in the past three weeks, grabbing not only the mantle of change, but also projecting himself as the still, calm voice of reasonableness and radicalism.

As I pointed out here on LDV, Clegg won last night’s debate among undecided and wavering voters, the most important group for any political leader to be reaching out to a week away from polling day. He did so by showing himself ready to work with the other parties, and by emphasising hs commitment to change and fairness, the two themes of the party’s manifesto.

That is a message Clegg has hammered home throughout this campaign, and in each one of the three televised debates. He has stuck to his script in a robust and disciplined way. It is a stark contrast with Cameron’s failure to sell, or even try to sell, the ‘Big Society’ to the public.

Perhaps more importantly – and let us not underestimate it – is that for three weeks running the leader of the Lib Dems has debated with the other two party leaders, and more than held his own. Indeed, in each of the debates he has convincingly out-debated the current Prime Minister, one of the most experienced politicians of his generation.

It has been a stellar performance from Nick Clegg in this campaign, not just because he is telegenic and personable, but because he has put forward liberal ideas in a serious, appealing way. Three-party politics is here to stay. Kudos to Clegg.

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This entry was posted in General Election and Op-eds.


  • Not that I want to give members a heart attack, but you need to understand how these debate polls are weighted. Especially the Yougov one.

    The poll is not looking to find how the leaders did with the electorate – old, young, black, white, muslim, gay, straight. Their goal, they claim is to find out how the leaders went down with “people likely to watch the debate”.

    The pollster samples -specifically Yougov – takes into account that the TV audience will be majority tory. White, middle aged, prosperous, middle class.

    Hence they weight their results to reflect this.

    All of Cameron’s figures – specifically with Yougov – have been boosted up by the pollsters to reflect the TV audience, and not the electorate.

    The companies – again, Yougov do it the most – claim they do this to give a fair reflection of how “debate watchers” have voted.

    The key thing being, “debate watchers” are a biased tory sample. They are basically saying that their figures and weighting are biased towards the tories, and against Labour. And probably the Lib Dems as well.

    Hence, Cameron somehow managed to win, overwhelmingly with Yougovs “sample”. But actually managed to come last, by a heck of a long way, with their undecided sample. He also came last with their question on “who will be the best prime minister on the back of this debate”…………

    How can this be? One sample is weighted in favour of the tories. The other isn’t.

    The way the polls are weighted, Cameron should win every one. As they are being polled on “likely TV audiences” and not the actual electorate.

    The fact that he lost most of them, and didn’t beat Brown by much in a few is a massive indicment to how bad he was.

    Again, the pollsters “argue” that they are polling to show how a TV audience have voted – a tv audience that are mostly tory, and are weighted as such.

    They claim that they are not trying to insinuate that this is how the leaders have gone down with the entire electorate.

    The problem being they try their best not to make this clear. The reason? Many people think they are trying to create the headlines that their newspapers and TV channels, who are paying for it, want.

    Boosted tory figures for Yougov and ICM, as ITV/SKY/The sun are paying for it.

    Yougov itself is basically owned by the tory party. The owner of the company also owns “conservativehome.com”. This person, many believe is just a frontman for the real owner. Lord Ashcroft……….

    There is no way yougov, and other pollsters will ruin their reputation with cooked up voting intention figures. They need reliable figures for their business.

    They say “hell to that” with leaders debate figures.

    Their weightings, I’d state it was impossible for Brown to win a Yougov leaders debate poll, no matter how he did. Their sample was weighted far too heavily towards Cameron.

    The fact that Clegg beat Cameron in one of the Yougov polls is miraculous

    Your friendly polling company mole.

    PS. Follow the money……………….all of this information is in the public domain, if you look hard enough. Try the polling sites, and message boards, frequented by polling experts, and political academics.

  • Andrew Suffield 30th Apr '10 - 8:56pm

    Yougov itself is basically owned by the tory party

    Nothing secret about that, but even Tories can follow basic mathematical procedures and get the right answers. Still, pollsters are, as a breed, built on an elephant in the room: the assumption that nothing in politics changes. That’s usually true, and so they can deliver accurate results year after year. Occasionally, it breaks down, and they deliver nonsense. You can’t predict when this will happen, so you have to treat all pollsters with scepticism. Ultimately what they are doing is delivering a really accurate prediction of the outcome of the previous election.

  • Terry Gilbert 30th Apr '10 - 10:41pm

    Stephan Shakespeare (nee Kukowski) was Bob Russell’s opponent in Colchester in 1997.

  • George Kendall 1st May '10 - 12:03am

    “three weeks ago the Tories were polling in the 36-39% range, with most pundits predicting a narrow-but-decisive Tory majority. Currently, just a few days before polling day, the Tories are stuck in the 33-36% range.”

    Sorry, this sends a cold shiver down my spine. Remember 1992, and the last minute Tory surge? Let’s not be complacent. A 33-36 poll rating for the Tories could turn into a 39% rating by next Thursday. Though I think remaining around 35% is more likely.

    Anon is right that the post-debate polls are unpresentative of the general public. But the importance of these polls is how they affect the wider perception of how the debate went. His apparent “win” in the debate will surely giving Cameron a small boost, especially when trumpeted by the Tory press.

    There are reasons to be very positive about the debate: The Angus Reid data showing Clegg scored best among undecided voters who watched the debate. I find it extremely encouraging that Clegg came a good second, despite defending a liberal policy on immigration. LibDem policy on immigration is admirable, but it’s a very, very hard sell to the wider public.

    To me, the big question is what will happen to the Labour vote.

    Brown doesn’t yet seem to have been hurt by “bigot-gate”. Indeed, perhaps by knocking Clegg off the front pages, it could have hurt us a little.

    There must be a chance we will squeeze that Labour, but, so far, overall, the polls aren’t showing that.

  • gwenhwyfaer 1st May '10 - 12:56pm

    If [Cameron] wins a small majority, God knows what forces of conservatism will be unleashed by his party’s uber-right-wing.

    But the thing is, that was always going to happen if Cameron got a small majority. Look at Major’s term in office, for example – and contrast with the freedom Blair’s landslide gave him essentially to tell the left of his party to get stuffed. The simple fact is that weak parties who aren’t quite weak enough to have to form coalitions are dragged towards their lunatic fringes.

    The essential public service that Nick Clegg has performed, quite aside from his duty as Lib Dem leader to try to win the election, is to make sure that everyone’s quite clear on that point. He’s dragged the Tories out into the light; I suspect that Daniel Hannan, Douglas Carswell and their friends – a large number of whom stand to be elected this time around – were rather hoping to mount a guerilla assault on Cameron after he won, rather than having him start singing from their hymnals a fortnight before the election took place. A lot of people will have been reminded that the Tory party really haven’t changed at all, and I dread to think what this country is going to look like should a third of it cheer on an all-powerful government that scares the living crap out of the other two thirds of us.

  • Paul McKeown 4th May '10 - 12:04am

    Yes, Carswell not only looks freakish, but his opinions regarding climate change are extremely dangerous. That he might have influence within the Conservative party is very worrying. Cameron tries to modernise his party, meanwhile all sorts of wingnuts, whose ideas originate from the wackier realms of US Republican thought threaten to drag the Conservative party from its traditional concerns regarding small government into the madhouse of climate change denial, prejudice against racial, religious and sexual minorities, unconditional support for Israel and the USA right or wrong, rhetoric against the Celtic nations with the United Kingdom, rhetoric against the European Union and a wish to remove all ties to it. I have never voted other than SDP/Liberal Alliance and later Liberal Democrat, but it would be nice to think that one had a choice. With such poisonous elements, certainly not the Conservatives…

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