Written by David Broadbridge
Although the election campaign has not officially started, the “Battle for Number 10” on Sky and Channel 4 certainly had the feel of what the opening round of a long and uncertain struggle to form the next government. Both Cameron and Miliband were grilled by Jeremy Paxman and questioned by members of the audience. But how did each leader do?
David Cameron was first grilled by Paxman, and initially looked unprepared and flustered on some tough questioning about zero-hours contracts and food banks, so it was unsurprising when he quickly turned to the well rehearsed lines about the economy and jobs. Cameron soon found his stride but whenever under serious threat turned all answers round to the strong economy. He admitted his party had failed on immigration, but proposed genuine Conservative policies to deal with it.
He answered well about his plans for Welfare (apart from saying what he would cut) and argued that cutting £1 out of every £100 that the government spends was a better policy than taxing people more. He highlighted his EU successes as his main area of good foreign policy, no more British money for bailouts and cutting the EU budget. Then came questions from the audience and we saw Cameron at his best, calmly putting his view and arguments forward and showing what a Prime Minister looks like.
Ed Miliband began with questioning from the audience and this meant he could quickly find his stride and also put across his arguments for a Labour government in a calm and Prime Ministerial manner. He was however shot down when trying to criticise the Conservatives rather than talk about his own policies. Then when Miliband sat down with Paxman, he admitted the last Labour government got things wrong, but failed to accept responsibility for the state of the country’s finances.
Paxman pressed him for an answer about immigration policy and his forecasts when he began as Labour leader, but ultimately didn’t get the answer. Under further tough questioning from Paxman, Miliband, like Cameron, returned to a comfort answer when things got tough; the cost of living crisis and making the country work for people. Miliband put himself across as a tough individual, something he hadn’t yet shown and laid a few punches himself on an arrogant Paxman.
Jeremy Paxman challenged each leader on a number of issues and was equally tough on them; he brought out the best in Miliband and allowed Cameron to acknowledge some failings of his government and what he would do if he were to remain as Prime Minister. He failed to really challenge Cameron on his economic plans nor Miliband on his deficit reduction plans, and despite asking Cameron about VAT, he didn’t quiz Miliband on National Insurance. Paxman looked out of ideas and arrogant when interrogating Miliband and ultimately resorted to asking personal questions to which Miliband calmly responded, rather than discuss policy. Kay Burley ensured both leaders answered plenty of questions and kept the debates on track with the audience.
While Cameron used his time with Paxman to present policies and put his view forward, Miliband faced some tough personal questions and never really put across the views of the Labour party as convincingly. Snap polls suggested that Cameron shaded it and my analysis would certainly agree with that. Cameron looked somewhat unrehearsed, Miliband looked unconvincing. Both men will need to improve when they face the other leaders next week.
Jeremy Paxman: B
David Cameron: C
Ed Milliband: C-
Kay Burley: B+
Rewatch the debate here.