The BBC leader’s debate was terrible. Too many leaders on stage, too few of them good. In between the incoherent shouting, there were a handful of good points being made. Unfortunately, they were drowned out by the sheer amount of nonsense.
To start with, the opening statements. Amber Rudd, representing the Tories, gave the best opening statement. She nailed the tone, and stayed on message. Despite not being Prime Minister or party leader, she sounded like a Prime Minister.
Tim Farron also did pretty well with the opening statements, coming up with a pretty good line on May’s social housing policy.
By the first question, Rudd had fallen apart somewhat. Her authoritative and confident tone couldn’t hide her stumbling. As the debate went on, pre-planned lines and endless catchphrases caught up with her too.
This being said, she gave a fantastic answer on climate change. She made the argument we should all be making on climate change- the investments that have already been made in developing green technologies are already making green technology more economically viable than heavy polluting technology. She pointed out that Trump was wrong, but that the Paris Agreement would not fall and that the drive towards greener technology within the USA would not fall. She also ridiculed suggestions from the Plaid leader that the government should be petulantly phoning Trump up to tell him that he’s an idiot, pointing out that that’s not how diplomacy works.
Jeremy Corbyn, after a last minute decision to turn up, had a hit and miss night. Sounding good on social care, and staying on message for most of the debate, he wasn’t as bad as was expected. He came spectacularly unstuck on security, though. Long pauses, lazy generalisations and frankly a series of incoherent ramblings.
He also seemed to misunderstand the British economy. When talking about Europe, he unprompted said that the UK would be leaving the Single Market. He went on to say that he would push for a tariff free deal for British manufacturers, and only mentioned manufacturing jobs and tariffs. The UK economy is dominated by services, by foreign- and often European- owned companies, and by financial services. By not mentioning non-tariff barriers to trade that leaving the Single Market creates in the service and financial services sector, he may have worried a lot of people. By not defending the freedom of movement of capital and investment, he should have worried a lot more.
Yet we expected a lot worse. He sounded confident on social care and the NHS, and he was right to. He legitimately sounded good on those issues, and gave good answers.
Tim Farron was a mixed bag. He made some good points, and produced some very good lines. But we barely heard him, and he stumbled on renewable energy- an issue he needs to be strong on, as he battles for tactical votes from natural Greens and eco-conscious Tory remainers.
Leanne Wood was less bad than at the last debate. At the last debate, she proclaimed that there is no evidence that smaller class sizes equal higher academic achievements (there is), and rambled incoherently. This time, she just sounded like a lightweight and a petulant child.
Angus Robertson, the SNP Westminster leader, isn’t as good as Nicola Sturgeon. Despite that, he may have won the debate. Constantly on message, usually coherent, he sounded like a professional next to a fair few novices. That message was Scotland specific, pro-Europe and anti-Tory.
He actually gave what I think was the best answer of the night when he talked about Libya. He said that it is right that we intervene to stop the massacres, pretending that it isn’t happening would simply be wrong, but we need to spend more time and invest more money and political capital into re-building when the conflict is complete. He is right. Successful interventions have seen us spend far more, and pay far more attention to, creating a post-conflict peaceful and prosperous society. Unsuccessful ones have seen us forget about intervention the moment we win the war, and fail to invest that money and political capital into state building.
At times, he also sounded like he was a little stuck in the past. 2015 was the austerity election, yet he still used the term. His party was in charge of austerity in Scotland, and was even more savage to the NHS and education. That may have played well to SNP voters, but may also have emboldened those- especially unionists- who have not drunk the political party cool aid to vote against his party.
Paul Nuttall was Paul Nuttall. The drunk who wet himself in the pub at 11am, and is still in there shouting at anyone who’ll listen about why Trump’s great and immigrants are bad at 11pm. On several occasions, he randomly segwayed to ‘but Trump is great’ making no sense whatsoever in doing so. He spouted lies and aggressive slurs throughout.
Whenever he talked about lowering corporation tax to make Britain competitive, and he talked about it a lot, Angus Robertson chimed in to simply say ‘companies are becoming uncompetitive because of Brexit’. He’s right. When he talked about Labour trying to take the country back to the 1970s, the audience laughed.
Caroline Lucas had a generally good evening. The problem is, she was largely forgettable bar one line about turning up. She did not come unstuck, but she did not inject any new enthusiasm or excitement into her party’s policies. In fact, we only really heard about one of her party’s policies, and that was an environmental one.
Now, we should also talk about posture and body language. I’m not a body language expert, but have done some research. Four of them showed some signs of something, though in a debate setting all of the leaders will have been coached out of negative behaviours.
Caroline Lucas tilted her head to the side and leant forwards throughout the debate, as she had in the last debate. This was consistent, and noticeable. Leaning forwards is a sign of engagement, but doing so in such a consistent manner a sign of coaching. Consistently tilting your head to one side is a sign of nerves.
Jeremy Corbyn was similar. He leant forwards throughout and tilted his head to one side throughout. Again a sign of coaching, and likely of nerves. It made him look more scruffy than it made Lucas look, though, as it highlighted his beard and vest in the lighting.
Tim Farron occasionally leant forwards, which is a sign of engagement, when he seemed to be on a roll. When he attacked Nuttall for his rhetoric on Muslims, he leant forwards, as he did when he talked about Europe. Throughout much of the debate he didn’t lean forwards. On some issues, he’s confident and relaxes. On others he’s less confident.
Paul Nuttall leant back through much of the debate, only leaning forwards when he was attempting to interrupt someone. He was also clearly reading many of his answers from notes and often looked to the side of the camera and questioner when answering. This is a sign he was disengaged, and uncomfortable.
There were also a fair few interruptions, as the debate descended into a shouting match at times.
I have to say, when I was watching and listening, it felt as though Nuttall, Wood and Lucas made far more interruptions. I presume because it felt as though some of their interruptions led to the short periods in which everyone shouted over each other.
This childish shouting, and general mediocrity of even the best debaters in the field marked this debate as a dud. I would be surprised if anyone changes their mind because of this shouting match, and I would be surprised if many watched it all the way through to the end.
The winner of this debate? Britain’s Got Talent on the other side. In the room? Probably Angus Robertson. Farron and Lucas did well, too, and Corbyn defied expectations. The loser? Nuttall.