Missed the Prince Andrew interview and the Boris v Corbyn debate

Look, I’m keen on politics and current affairs, although I’m pleased to say that for both TV performances, Prince Andrew interview and the Boris v Corbyn debate I was otherwise engaged.

Yesterday evening I was entertained at a meeting of the Surrey Industrial History Group by Jon Cotton’s lecture on The Archaeology of London’s River.

Jon described the evolution of the Thames, its frequent times of flooding, the numerous important finds from the river, some by mudlarks, some through dredging, and some through archaeological digs. One such find is a celtic Horned Helmet, the only one found in the UK, and now in the British Museum.

Here are some of the photos from Jon’s presentation, including a number of a frozen river Thames, although the one from 1881 is a Francis Frith copyrighted photo which you can see HERE.

Cameron shines, Clegg blows up, Brown exhausted

Well, that’s it. I’ve watched the debate, caught the various news channels, watched Question Time, and finished with This Week. I’m pooped, plus have caught man flu from wife. So, I’ll keep it short, and will provide more later today.

Brown: Yes, he was combative, but my oh my so negative. A couple of times I thought he’d simply collapse like a pricked balloon. What resilience, what dedication to the cause of state control. However, sadly for Gordon there’s no way he’ll gain any votes in as a reward. Brown is burned toast. Resigns on the day of election defeat.

Clegg: All that earnest youthful imploring to vote for him failed. Not sure when, early on I think,  suspect it was the question about growing our manufacturing base, the Clegg hot air balloon lost its tethering ropes, and was gone. Occasionally he managed to haul it back, but then loosing his grip, it was gone again. The stuff at the end was plain cheesy.

Cameron: Only the most tribal would disagree that Cameron was the outright winner. The one time when Cameron’s passion and presentational fire shone was in the answer to a question where he said,  ‘damn right’. Oddly, he seemed to rein himself in after that. Maybe Michael Portillo, on This Week, had it right when he said that it was the compromise he had to make to appear prime ministerial. Control, that’s what Cameron exhibited. Refusing to be drawn into answering the other leaders questions. Oh, and having enough ammunition, in terms of argument, in the follow-up discussions, after the initial question. That’s real control, saving ammunition, which you might not get a chance to use, and yet being comfortable about it.

Done. Dusted. Lemsip and honey drunk. Now to bed

Leaders’ TV Debate effect on Labour

Labour’s election machine has been a fearsome thing. But, that’s it, it has been fearsome, not now. Even the skills of Alistair Campbell and Lord Mandelson are failing to energise the Labour campaign.

I think I’ve concluded why this is, and in a strange way, we’ve known about it for a couple of years. It’s this, that Gordon Brown is their strategic weakness, which is exacerbated by the Leaders’ TV Debates. The focus on Gordon and his performance in the debates have drained any remaining energy out of Labour’s campaign. Even a strong performance from Gordon Brown in the last debate cannot overcome the greyness and careworn look of the Prime Minister.

All of Labour’s sleaze scandals, their nasty smear campaigns, the plots and coups against Gordon have slipped into the background. Gordon remains standing, but the years of in-fighting with Tony Blair, have left a grey, hollowed out husk, which is what the electorate see, and only the most fervent Labour activist fails to see.

Not choosing to change their leader is THE strategic error, which might, stress might, cause Labour to fatally implode.

The second Leaders’ TV Debate and follow-up stuff

I watched, enjoyed, and possibly endured four and a half hours of political news, debate, and reflections last night. Beginning with the Leaders’ TV Debate, follow-up reactions, Question Time and This Week. I’ll make it short.

Leaders’ TV Debate: I thought David Cameron won by a country mile, [hell, I’m conservative you know] even though I spotted a couple of weak responses. It’s these that drag down his overall rating, methinks. Brown put in a strong performance, although looked worn out. Amazing to me that he’s lasted this long, a tribute to his resilience and inner drive. Clegg again delivered a polished presentation. But, I’m probably in the minority in not warming to his, or the LibDem blandishments. When Clegg mentioned climate change in his opening speech, I was surprised. Where’s that come from. Are the LibDems going for the student vote? Result: No knockout blow from any leader. They all live to fight on, in the final debate.

Conclusion: It’s taken me a while to come to get here; I think the result of the MP’s expenses scandal and loss of trust in politics, has morphed into an amorphous desire for change, which the LibDems have successfully captured, through both luck and policies for change in the political system. We’ve just got to live with the consequences now of a three-way fight, however uncomfortable.

Post debate review: Can I say how much I loathe senior politicians being interviewed after the debate. They offer no perspective whatsoever. Much better to talk to commentators, or intelligent observers.

Question Time: Anne Leslie was my star in Question Time, particularly for debunking the LibDem halo on party funding, and also on a hung parliament. Good on her. In an odd way, I get the feeling that the public’s desire for a hung parliament is an easy way of avoiding giving direct support to any one party.

This Week: Tiredness was overcoming me from a long day out. Politicians, commentators, and journalists must all be sleep-deprived wrecks, living on adrenalin. Surely, they can’t all be happy to have the uncertainty of a hung parliament after the election, with the mayhem continuing.

Choosing positivism over negativism

You’ll not need reminding that I’m a Conservative councillor, but that doesn’t make me a political strategist, or given to any greater political insight that the man on the Clapham omnibus.

I’m a conservative because my values are most closely aligned to those of the Conservatives. Self improvement, self-reliance, private enterprise over state industry, individual choice over state direction, acknowledgement of the essential intelligence and soundness of my countrymen and women in adversity, straightforwardness over the tricky; these are  just a few. These values, I think, make me an optimist by nature, and as a result I also keep positive about things. Reality, of course, intervenes on occasion. But optimists accept that and move on.

So here’s David Cameron’s conundrum. Time is short, how hard should he attack opposing policies and arguments, as a means of explaining the differences between the parties? 

Here’s what I would do. Go back to my values; self-reliance, enterprise and straightforwardness. I’d strengthen the choice on offer, sharpen my presentation, try to distill complex choices into a pithy and memorable phrase for people to hang on to, and, importantly, stay positive.

Sure, highlight funk, error, and subterfuge of the opposition, but don’t get caught being negative. Use your closing lines of the last Leaders’ TV Debate as you’re opening lines. They were strong, offered hope, recognised the challenges we all face. Above all, trust the innate sound judgement of the electorate, but remember to reward them with honesty about policy and the choices that lie ahead of us. That way offers honour in defeat, so that you can come back to fight another day.

To end on a postive note. I’m still expecting a Conservative government on May 7th, with a majority of over 30. Why, simply because the recent events have sharpened the debate and the differences between parties.

Leaders’ TV debate; best journalistic opinion

Here’s my selection of the reviews of last night’s debate, and all are mercifully short.

Oh, and there’s another one next week. As if you didn’t know, in which Adam Boulton promises more pointed questions.

Outcome of the Leaders’ TV Debate

Firstly, I’m not entirely impartial, I’m a Conservative councillor. Although I’ll try hard to be impartial.

Nick Clegg’s passion and speaking direct to camera was effective, and outshone his content, which I thought was weak. Immediate public reaction scored Clegg’s performance highest. A surprise to me. I didn’t warm to his body language, hand gestures, or his hands in pockets – a Clegg habit. Perhaps that doesn’t offend as much as I think. I’m wondering if the less polished answers he gave, and occasional hesitation, and searching for the right words made him appear more normal, being similar to what we might be in such a situation.

Gordon Brown was earnest and stoic, that he felt the need for direct attacks on Cameron played two ways, both of weakness and oddly of passion. Again, surprise at the very low rating given post-debate. Gordon spoke to the audience and not the camera, and seemed to refer to notes. He played the prime ministerial card well, which, again surprisingly, didn’t score well. He can’t recover lost trust, too late in the day. Perhaps we know all we need to know about Gordon Brown, and our minds are made up.

David Cameron, a class act, with a magisterial summing up at the end. Rather lost his way on the debate on the economy. Too much focus on the NI jobs tax. Funnily, I think all his experience of talking to small groups of people in Cameron Direct meant he tried to connect with the audience and not the camera. Cameron had poise, confidence, spoke clearly, and was the one leader with the least in repetitive lines. A thoroughly prime ministerial performance, where he resisted the temptation to be negative and attack his opponents. His body language was clearly to stand tall, and be a man of stature that you could trust as a PM. Maybe the audience were expecting much more of a fight from him to be PM.

Result: Not a game changer, as they say. Views on the relative performances will crystallise over the next few days. There are two more debates to come. It’ll be interesting to see how the leaders performance in front of Adam Boulton and David Dimbleby. Oh, whathisname as moderator, wasn’t as good as I expected. He made for a jerky, and slightly unbalanced debate. Moderators need to keep the viewing audience engaged. Not sure that happened.

Now off to bed, too much politics, what with Question Time, and part of This Week after the Leaders’ TV Debate.

Has two party politics gone forever?

I’ve grown up with mostly two-party politics in the UK. In any political discussion there’s now a representative from Labour, Conservative, and the Lib Dems, so that makes it three party politics now. With regional and sectional interest parties also getting air time too, I think we’ve reached the stage of multi-party politics.

How, and why has the Balkanisation of our politics happened, and is it good for us? What follows won’t be a long discussion about this, but a brief observation.

How has it happened? The devolution of political powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has boosted the parties with a purely regional interest. The European Convention on Human Rights underpins the change to multi-party politics. Broadcasters particularly, seem fearful of the charge of ignoring a minority’s human rights to have their voices heard.

Is it good for us? No. To my rather simple brain, I struggle to find any pleasure or enlightenment in hearing multiple views on the same topic. Political discussion is debased when it gets down to the boring minutiae of points scoring. The more parties there are, the more they need to shout and clamour for attention.

Advocates of multi-party politics say it’s a good thing to have many voices, which informs debate and decision-making. I would counter that both Labour and the Conservatives are broadly based political parties, happy to include those many strands of opinion within their ranks.

My final points are these. The main winners in this Balkanisation of our politics are the media, and the commentariat. It’s they who grow fat on the need, they suppose, to interpret political goings on. The presidentialising of our politics with The Leaders Debate mainly benefits the TV companies. Their relentless focus on the consequences of a mistake by a party leader doesn’t improve our politics, it demeans it.

The losers are the general public. On any political topic we now have to listen to three politicians, and depending where in the country the TV cameras are, two or even three more. Herein lies the route to madness for the viewer.

Of course, I’ll be watching the TV debate tonight. Am I looking forward to it? hell, no. I hope it’s just a one-off experiment. We are a bicameral parliamentary democracy, vigourous debate happens daily in our parliament. You can watch it all unfiltered on BBC Parliament, or the BBC’s Democracy Live, or read Hansard. Multi-party politics provides TV and the media an opportunity to intermediate between us and our politicians. Heaven help us.

The race is on to get into No.10

Watching the Sky News coverage of the start of the election campaign, I thought, ‘start as you mean to carry on’, as a useful metaphor for the three party leaders performances in opening their campaigns:

David Cameron, first to speak, moments after Gordon Brown returned to Downing Street. Addressing an enthusiastic crowd of supporters outside old County Hall, over the river from the Houses of Parliament, spoke of the need for change, choosing the path to prosperity over the road to ruin, all optimism, hope, and need for renewal. A genuinely impressive, and confident performance. Interesting references to people power, big society, and reshaping Westminster-based politics. If he wins, he may be a truly transformative prime minister, there were echoes of this in his speech.

Stage managed for TV, after Cameron had finished speaking, Gordon Brown, flanked by his cabinet ministers, outside Downing Street, announced the election date. Beginning hesitatingly, spoke of his middle class background and his values. Then spoke of the choice facing the electorate, asking them for mandates to continue work to secure the recovery, not putting hard-won work at risk, continuing the work to create a fairer society, and create a cleaner politics. Not the hint of a smile crossed his face. Just the dourness and earnestness you expect from Gordon Brown.

Then to Nick Clegg, speaking to a handful of party workers inside, I guess, LibDem headquarters. His message was about the re-shaping of British politics, by voting LibDem. Unfortunately, he didn’t espouse the reasons for voting LibDem, merely encouraging his audience to work harder, and to enjoy it.

So, there you have it. Summed up in three words for each opening pitch. Cameron: energy, change, optimism. Brown: secure, stable, trust. Clegg: sorry, I’m struggling to remember the impression he created, other than that of vacuity. 

Wonder if the three TV debates confirm these initial opinions.