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From The Socialist newspaper, 21 April 2010

TV debate - Party leaders compete for the same policies

The first television debate, on 15 April, between the leaders of the main parties was the first such election debate in Britain. The press loved it, even calling it "gladiatorial combat", but it was more like fighting with cushions. If the other ten million viewers were like me, they would have been bored stiff.

If you didn't already know who the parties were, you would not have known which was which as there were no ideological differences in evidence. Any differences were of a managerial nature, over the detail of specific measures, or not even disagreements but: 'I want to do that too but I want to do it more'. Then Gordon Brown would say 'but we're already doing it' and David Cameron would say 'but you've had 13 years to do it, you're only doing it now' and Clegg would say 'the more they argue the more they sound the same'. This was Clegg's 'winning' argument.

Nick Clegg delivered the most competent performance and managed to inject a slight human element into it, occasionally sounding exasperated. He constantly said: "it's time to try something different". But the audience would have been hard-pressed to see what that difference was. The only stand-out difference was on Trident, with Clegg saying he would scrap it, Cameron saying that 'the defence of Britain is vital', and Brown managing to not comment on it.

In this medium there was no real debate, no dialogue, no one held to account. The audience sat passively in the TV studio and at home. Questioners were not allowed to comment on the answers, or make comments of their own. There were no heckles or applause, and no one was challenged.

On the economy, no one argued anything other than that there should be cuts. Clegg's 'something different' amounted to telling the others to be honest about what needs to be done.

With a massive onslaught coming on the public sector that will devastate the lives of masses of people, the voice that was missing from this debate was the one that says: 'No! We will not pay for your crisis!'

Paula Mitchell

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In The Socialist 21 April 2010:

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