Tuesday 30 March 2010

Two's Company, Three's a Crowd

I didn't watch the "Chancellors' debate" last night:

a) I have a life
b) It's always easier to comment dispassionately on things you haven't seen, and
c) I thought the most important things is not what they said but how people thought they had done.

I've read a lot of comments/blogs/papers and the consensus seems to be:

1. Vince Cable won the debate, but not by a lot;
2. George Osborne did much better than people expected;
3. Alastair Darling was OK – slightly better than Osborne but not a lot;
4. All three therefore came across well, but mostly spoke in generalities;
5. The debate did not change people’s minds about how they would vote;
6. So overall a good result for the Tories given fears about Osborne;
7. Darling and Cable agreed more than they disagreed – another indication that a hung Parliament would probably lead to a Lib/Lab pact of some sort.
8. The debate favoured – in audience selection, positioning and questioning – the Lib Dems.

I have never understood why Cable is so highly regarded; actually that’s not quite right: I can see that he comes across well as an experienced elder statesman. But what he says is often wrong and usually inconsistent with what he said on earlier occasions and with his party’s policy. In this sense he is like Blair: the public take to someone and it takes a long time for them to realise what he’s really like. The good news is that his favourable treatment in the debate has lead writers to more closely examine what he said. I won’t bother with all the inconsistencies, but this (vituperative comment) highlights his agreement with Brown that public finances were fine when the Tories were noting that it wasn’t, this his ignoring of Lib Dem policy and this his wide misrepresentation, to use a polite word, of his discussions with the Treasury.

Do I protest too much, showing I worry that he is taken so seriously? Probably – but I also genuinely feel he would be a bad Chancellor because he has shown no sign of producing coherent policies or of understanding what is really going on. I see an actor.

I have always liked Darling since I met him and heard him speak in the late 80’s in Edinburgh: he struck me as sensible and considered; I feel very sorry for him having to deal with the mess that he inherited from Brown. But if there is a Labour victory – or more likely a Lib/Lab pact – it is highly unlikely he will remain as Chancellor given the well publicised disagreements with Brown’s inner circle.

I doubt if I will watch the leadership debates either. I don’t think they are a sensible introduction to the election process as they will be so staged they will not allow for a proper understanding of the people involved, and each soundbite will be carefully measured and assessed they will not allow a proper understanding of policy. They are there for the greater glorification of the TV producers.

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