Britain finally catching up with rest of the democratic world
Published 17/04/2010 | 05:00
In agreeing to take part in the first-ever televised election debate, the UK's main party leaders were only catching up with most of the rest of the democratic world.
Still, public scepticism about the desirability, even usefulness, of such an occasion abounded.
In the event, there were three convincing winners from Thursday night's event -- and that's not all three candidates.
The first winner was the debate itself. Britain's leading politicians showed themselves as adept at debating as those of any other country -- in some respects, more so. Proceedings moved along at an impressive clip, and the three leaders were soon engaging each other.
The viewing figures were not as high as some had hoped, but, at 9.4 million, by no means as low as feared.
Even if fewer people tune in for next week's debate, on international affairs, forecasts that this election would be marked by deep-seated public apathy are already wrong.
The second winner was, undoubtedly, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg. It is true that Mr Clegg had most to gain from the format that gave the third party a seat at the top table -- or rather a lectern on the stage -- on equal terms with Labour and the Conservatives.
But it was up to him to make the most of it, which he did with energy and aplomb. He showed himself to be the equal of the other two in his familiarity with the policy questions, and superior in his capacity to communicate with the audience.
This triumph is significant for Mr Clegg. He has put himself and the Liberal Democrats very effectively on the electoral map and -- just perhaps -- allayed some of the trepidation about a possible hung parliament.
The third winner, though it might seem surprising to say so, was the Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
While, it appears, Mr Brown was the runner-up in this debate -- although well behind Mr Clegg and only a little ahead of the Conservative leader, David Cameron -- it is the Labour leader who emerges as the chief beneficiary in electoral terms.
And it is, after all, only the election that matters.
David Cameron's uncharacteristically stiff and nervous performance left Mr Brown unchallenged in appearing prime ministerial.
So this first televised debate was not a lost opportunity. The only loser was Mr Cameron, to whose strengths, paradoxically, the debate format was expected to play. (©Independent News Service)