ITV debate heralds new era in British politics

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A new era of British politics has begun. Whatever we make of the performance of each individual in yesterday’s debate, what cannot be doubted is that our witnessing seven different party leaders all making their voices heard and all being given the same platform is unprecedented in the history of the United Kingdom. They didn’t disappoint, either: Natalie Bennett and Nigel Farage both presented their parties as something completely different to the Westminster Consensus and Leanne Wood made a strong case for representing the voice of ‘The Valleys’. However, it was arguably the SNP who gained the most from the event –at least if the party’s acquisition of 2,000 new members overnight and the prominence of the question “Can I vote for the SNP?” on Google in the broadcast’s aftermath was any indication’.

By contrast, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour, looked like they had come to not lose the debate, rather than to win it. On that front, all three succeeded. David Cameron saying ‘long-term economic plan’ has become almost as common an occurrence as Farage blaming everything on immigrants, but the former generally managed to reign superior in the areas where the Conservatives are traditionally seen as strongest – namely the economy and strong leadership. Ed Miliband, meanwhile, greatly usurped the low expectations which many had of him prior to the debate, leading a Com Res Poll which asked who seemed ‘most understanding of your concerns’ – albeit by staring into the camera lens incessantly. Nick Clegg suffered most from this low-risk approach, though, failing to replicate the ‘Cleggmania’ of 2010’. He repeatedly emphasised his party as one of balance, but seemed to gain few voters from either side as a result.

A note must go to Nigel Farage too. It is very easy to dismiss UKIP from within the ‘Oxford bubble’; personally, I found that he ranged between a broken record stuck on blaming immigration, a petulant schoolchild unable to make sensible facial expressions and unnecessarily offensive with his comments on HIV. However, the selection of polls above shows him averaging just half a percent behind Labour and 1% behind Conservatives in terms of an overall winner; indeed, one Question Time audience member shortly afterwards claimed he was the only leader who didn’t look ‘absolutely fake.’ On the other hand, Farage remains heavily divisive along the electorate, and it is likely that his toxicity with a large number of voters will prevent his party influencing which political player(s) form the next British government.

But the biggest cheer in the Question Time audience came after Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown made the following comment:  “I thought the women did fantastically well.” The Greens and Plaid Cymru may have lost in the post-debate polls, but both will have given Labour a fright by – along with the SNP – leading the assault on austerity. Wood also gave perhaps the best put-down of Farage, accusing him of ‘scaremongering’. But it was Sturgeon who caused the biggest shock of the night, attracting the praise of everyone from Michael Gove to Rory Bremner regarding her performance. Only now can the rest of the UK see why the SNP are predicted to win anything up to 50 seats – something the Lib Dems and UKIP can most likely only dream of this year.

Let us not be too hasty, though. Barring a massive shock it will be David Cameron or Ed Miliband who walks through the door of Number 10 on May 8th. But neither will likely do so with a majority and last night’s debate showed the British electorate that there are alternatives to these political behemoths. I may not personally agree with Farage or Sturgeon, but they certainly demonstrated that the political landscape of the UK has changed, and that the election of 2015 will therefore be one of the most exciting in recent history.

Picture Credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-32166354