JP 11.27pm Time for my last attempt at sober analysis of the debate and the aftermath.
What matters ultimately is who came out on top between Cameron and Brown. After all, the Lib Dems have no chance in the majority of seats in the general election. They may still be glad to increase their number of seats from the current 63. Those are the basic facts.
If the preliminary reports are correct – that Cameron was significantly ahead of Brown – that may, ultimately, turn out to be crucial.
Regardless of Clegg’s moment in the sun (“Clegg the outsider seizes his moment in the TV spotlight” is the Guardian front page tomorrow. And “shock victory for Clegg” is the Daily Mail.) It’s still about blues versus reds.
AB 11.19pm Sam Coates has the twitter scoop on the use of the Bat Phone:
Debate complaint hotline to itv – labour called it twice, tories once (sources say on timing), lib dems once
JP: 23.16pm Lance Prince, former Downing St aide, is arguing that Gordon Brown’s jokes didn’t work – and that his debating style was “old-fashioned”. We thought the joke about Ashcroft paying for posters with him smiling wasn’t so bad. Then again, the line about “It’s Answer Time, not Question Time” was seriously contrived.
AB 11.09 Top insight from Ben Page at Mori. His focus group for Newsnight seemed to show that the personal stories (which work so well in the US debates) fell flat.
JP 11.06pm Only thought. If Clegg is now seen as the best debater, does that mean he has more to lose from the next two debates? Or will he surprise us on international affairs and the economy? Expectations will be running high though, and he will have to repeat tonight’s performance. Gove has just said: “with novelty comes interest, but with interest comes scrutiny.”
JP 11.04pm I’ll second that. If you’d paid a six-figure sum for Anita Dunn or similar you might now be feeling a little bit sore (the Conservatives).
Meanwhile, here is Alan Schroeder’s last comment.
As Jim suggests, Ross Perot did not wear well over the course of three debates, but I don’t see that happening with Clegg. Perot was a specialty act, and as a result, his persona got old pretty fast. Clegg would seem to offer broader appeal. Another difference: I don’t think Perot ever really had a strategy for the debates-he just sort of showed up and started talking–but it’s clear that Clegg put a lot of thought into what he wanted to accomplish vis-a-vis his opponents. Having succeeded once, he will undoubtedly continue to think strategically for the rounds ahead.
AB 10.59 We’re just wondering what the Tories and Labour must have shelled out for the gaggle of Obama political consultants. The Lib Dems had….uh….
The markings are:
B: Brown says ‘ID cards for immigrants’
C: Brown questions on Lord Ashcroft
D: Education/class sizes
E: Clegg: “Brown and Cameron are the same”
AB 10.45pm Good line from Alan Johnson on the BBC. “The independently neutral Alan Johnson polls showed that Gordon Brown won this.”
JP 22.40pm And thanks for all our international readers tonight on the blog; including……..167 in the US, three in Turkey (including alex’s parents), four in Brazil, eight in India, eight in Sweden, one in Lithuania, one in Algeria, one in Ghana, one in Kazakhstan. (Alex can work Google Analytics, I’m a technophobe).
AB 22.33pm You really have to pinch yourself on some of the Clegg numbers. The ITV poll puts Clegg only 2 per cent behind the Tories on immigration (37% vs 35%). The Lib Dems in the Spin Room at cock-a-hoop. And so they should be.
JP: 22.30pm Some of the “facts” may not have been right. For example, Cameron’s killer comment on Bulgarian cancer rates (UK is supposedly worse) doesn’t necessarily stand up. My colleague Nick Timmins, an expert on the NHS, says it’s debatable. He says UK cancer mortality rates are usually more than six years out of date because they measure five-year survival.
And another colleague says Clegg wasn’t quite right when talking about Canadian permits. Like I said earlier, I don’t think these technical issues will influence many voters.
JP: 10.27pm Interesting that Alex just mentioned Ross Perot, who took part in the only US three-way debate ever to happen. Perot did brilliantly in the first debate, making the audience laugh out loud. In the second debate, however, he fell flat; his joke – “I’m all ears” sounding lame second time around. The Washington Post described him that time as a “crabby Munchkin” whose act was becoming “increasingly stale”. Not sure this will happen to Clegg though.
JP: 10.26pm The ITV survey of 4,000 people has come through. Clegg at 43 per cent, Cameron at 26 per cent and Brown at 20 per cent. Out and out win for the Liberal Democrats, it would appear.
AB 10.23pm A big, big win for Clegg in the YouGov poll. The Lib Dems will be cracking open a second pack of muesli tonight. This is truly remarkable. I’m sure Brown and Cameron will rue ever letting him on the stage. One thing to remember is that Ross Perot won the first 1991 debate in the US. The difficulty for the third candidate is maintaining the momentum.
· Nick Clegg – 51 per cent
· David Cameron – 29 per cent
· Gordon Brown – 19 per cent
· Don’t know – 2 per cent
JP 22:16pm BREAKING NEWS: YouGov poll is reportedly finding (according to politicshome) that Clegg was the big winner in the debate. I don’t yet know if this means that he was the most popular, or simply that he punched above his weight. Remember; he only needed to get above 20-25 per cent (a good show in the polls for Lib Dems) for it to be a success.
And here is our final verdict from Alan Schroeder, author of “Presidential Debates” (he didn’t ask for the plug, but we think he deserves it).
Closing statements: Clegg’s referencing the people in the audience may strike some as corny, but it worked for me. Brown’s “Britain’s Got Talent” joke falls flat–this man should not try to be a comedian. Cameron is fine, but fine probably isn’t good enough. To this non-voting observer, the verdict is clear: Clegg won the debate.
AB 22.14pm David Miliband has taken at pop at Cameron for his comments on China (I’m afraid we all missed it…)
“To put China and Iran in the same bracket is an insult to a follow permanent member of the UN security council and to a country with whom we have just announced a close strategic relationship.David Cameron should withdraw this slur now.
JP 22.10pm: And now the spin room operation begins. Even throughout the debate we were being bombarded with facts and counterfacts from the different parties; they have missed the point that this won’t be won or lost on nanodetails.
Here is the Tory spin that just dropped into my inbox: make of it what you will;
Cameron looked ready to lead. He was personal, direct and in command.
Brown was negative and desperate.
David clearly won on the NHS and proved it is our priority.
He was the only leader to apologise for expenses.
Clearly showed that you will only get change from the Conservatives.
His attack on the NI rise stood out. Brown had no answer.
Brown struggled throughout to deal with his record.
David succeeded in talking directly to the public about the issues that really affects them.
Clegg played same game throughout – to blame the other two. Fine but unable to answer scrutiny of Lib Dem policies. Had no answer to the Lib Dem donor question.
JP: 22.08pm: So, that was it. A moment of history has been and gone. Thanks to all of you who shared it with us and made comments – you help to make it much more lively for us. Meanwhile I’m told a Sky survey of 4,000 people has Cameron and Clegg in the lead at 36 per cent each with Brown behind. Here’s a link to Sky.
AB: 10.05pm Some movement in the betting markets. On Betfair, the online betting exchange, the Tories have gone out about 3 per cent since the start of the debate. Nothing dramatic. But the money has been moving against Cameron.
JP: 10.03pm: Robert Shrimsley thinks Cameron has ended quite well. “Choose hope over fear,” he says. RS’s theory is that “the reference to his late son and to carers seemed very human.” Now he’s talking about values, which tends to chime with voters. Workers, families, the sick, the old, DC is trying to strike a positive note – much as he did at the manifesto launch in Battersea. My immediate colleagues think that Cam seemed a bit too smooth and rehearsed.
Incidentally, Alan says: “As for GB’s drinking game catch-phrase, how about “I agree with Nick”?”
AB 10.00pm Clegg plays the “new style of politics” card to end. Seems to be promoting the idea of a hung parliament by suggesting the parties could work together to solve big problems. Plays to the 40 per cent of voters who would prefer a hung parliament. Lib Dems think they want some kind of “third party insurance” because they fear giving the Tories or Labour a strong mandate in a time of budget austerity.
AB 10.00pm From Robert:
A better last 20 mins from David Cameron. He really is good at doing “caring”. The reference to his late son and to carers seemed very human. Will people like him more at the end of this?
JP: 9.58pm Clegg says that help for carers is a “consensus” issue. Clever. Says that if everyone works together there could be a solution that will benefit the public.
JP: 9.57pm Although they may be forced to address the deficit in the final debate in Birmingham. Maybe. If they won’t answer the big question then, when if ever will they?
AB: 9.51 What about the deficit guys? Anyone who read Chris Giles piece this morning will realise how absurd it is that the debate has hardly touched on cuts, even though the next government will have to find at least £30bn. The debate format does not serve us well in that sense. None of the party leaders really want to discuss the gory details. They have to be forced to — and the moderator doesn’t have the power to do that.
JP: 9.50pm We are into the home strait now, with only 10 minutes to go. If anyone is sweating I can’t see it yet. Brown is now talking about the Tory inheritance tax cut. Will he mention Eton? And rich people? Will he? No, he’s been interrupted by Stewart.
JP: 9.49pm One colleague says she is already planning a drinking game for the next two debates. It’s one to for every time Cam mentions “13 years” and another every time Clegg talks about “the other two not being straight with you”. She can’t think of a Gordon one, which is telling.
AB 9.48pm Good memorable fact from Cameron. The death rate from cancer in Britain is worse than Bulgaria. We’re checking with Nick Timmins right now.
AB 9.46pm Alan the election guru thinks I’m wrong about the military round:
Brown’s response to the military question served him well, because it allowed him to come across as leaderly. Incumbency does offer some advantages in a debate—this is a classic example.
AB: 9.41pm Defence round over. Cameron played the long game, didn’t go for an early aggressive hit on the helicopters. Robert S thought it was as if he has been advised to avoid being too macho. But his answer on Trident was pretty firm and I expect Clegg’s position is a tough sell in Britain. Cameron later went for Brown on the shortage of helicopters. Brown in turn appeared to prefer rattling off names of helicopter models to making a solid argument. It’s one of Brown’s weakest areas and he didn’t have a great answer prepared. Bet he’d prefer to be in front of the Iraq Inquiry.
JP: 9.39pm Going back to the Clegg issue, which I think will be the main subject of the “spin cycle” that follows this debate; ie, did Clegg ace it? (the Tories and Labour will do their very best to argue no). It’s fascinating to hear him being treated seriously, in contrast to his weekly PMQ sidelining by the rest of the Commons.
JP: 9.37pm Clegg says Trident should be abandoned (“we’re not in a Cold War any more”) and money should be reprioritised towards Afghanistan. Cameron says the most important duty of any government is to defend their country and it would be unwise for Britain to do this in an uncertain world. I suspect this will play well in key marginals, no? Gordon Brown is going off into complex explanations about the need for a multinational solution “all round”. Interesting to have three such different positions for a change.
AB 9.34pm Apologies to the Guardian for nabbing this fantastic chart from their excellent tracker poll. Looks like even the lefties are backing Clegg over Brown.
JP: 9.33pm Alan Schroeder has changed his view on Clegg and become more positive: you’re right though Alan – he’s not Bill Clinton.
Clegg is starting to win me over. He’s the figure I was least familiar with coming over here. My first impression was not terribly positive: he came off to me as a callow striver. But so far in this debate he’s performing at a high level. As a TV debater he’s not a phenom, like Bill Clinton, but I give him credit for being able to position himself as equal to his rivals.
JP 9.31pm Brown sounds sincere when he talks about British troops. But one senior colleague suggests to me that he seems a bit like “yesterday’s man”.
Meanwhile Gary Gibbon, Channel 4 political editor, says: Gordon Brown should probably stop speaking in lists of three things…the word “thirdly” is a bit of a killer because it never crops up in normal conversation.
JP 9.25pm This is an unoriginal thought; but Brown lacks human warmth to an extent that seems painful; his enunciation, his bearing, his hand movements. Also, the trio are now on to the deficit, taxes, fiscal stuff – this wasn’t meant to happen until the third debate, which is all about the economy. I did wonder how they would be able to stay off the subject.
AB 9.24pm Robert Shrimsley:
Another puzzling thing about David Cameron: Gordon Brown has a clear strategy for this debate – attack the Tories on spending cuts and try to get Nick Clegg to join him in attacking Cameron; Nick Clegg has one too – denounce the other two; but what is David Cameron’s strategy? He seems to have no fundamental message here
AB 9.20pm “Where are you Robert,” says Clegg. First attempt to play the audience. Not bad. Beyond that there haven’t been too many attempts at stunts so far. They’re all understandably playing it reasonably safe. But the debate is still more lively than many of us expected. But no response from the audience so far. They must have been given a pretty stern talking to by the studio manager.
AB 9.18pm More from Robert Shrimsley:
Fascinating. Watching this debate in a bar full of political professionals and the politically interested. They started watching intently but now everyone is talking to each other and many are ignoring the debate
JP 9.15pm Cameron has mentioned national insurance for the second time in the evening. Suggesting the Labour NI policy will somehow hit education in Britain. Not sure I follow his logic. Brown is now repeating his old line that the Tories would take out £6bn from the economy by reversing the planned NI increase (due for next April). Cam says this figure was “plucked out of the air”; actually it is the Tory figure for ‘efficiency savings’. Either way though, both are ignoring the real story, the DEFICIT of £167bn (are they saving this for two weeks’ time or is it too horrible to discuss?). Clegg just had a good dig at how the more the other two argued, the more they sounded the same.
JP 9.14pm Cam makes joke about DCSF being known as “department of curtains and soft furnishings”. The audience don’t look desperately amused.
AB 9.12pm An observation from Robert Shrimsley, our armchair election watcher:
Is it my imagination or does David Cameron appear to be much less in this debate than the other two?
Eyebrows raised within a second in this hall, Cameron appears not to have shaved his upper lip and has a 30s french moustache
We not convinced. Could it just be the lighting?
AB: 9.09pm: Clegg’s answer to Cameron’s attack over the fugitive Michael Brown (and Lib Dem donor) was probably his first slip up. Don’t think it is ever a good idea to start a sentence: “we were completely exonerated”.
JP: 9.08pm: Now we have a student of some kind. How will the leaders improve ejucashon, he asks.
JP 9.07pm: Our reader Martyn notes that both Cameron and Brown keep saying “I agree with Nick”. Are they trying to neutralise him? If so it’s a risky technique.
JP 9.04pm: Alan, our US guest – and elections expert – is not so impressed by GB so far:”Brown’s big line ‘this isn’t Question Time, it’s Answer Time” gets stepped on–which is just as well, because it’s too obvious an attempt at a sound bite.”
Interesting to see how an “outsider” sees all this. Bear in mind that a lot of these arguments from all three are fairly new to many people, even in Britain (my university-educated sister last night didn’t even know the debates were about to happen).
And what does Alan make of Cameron?
“Cameron seems to be playing defense a bit too much—this isn’t the position you want to be in. As a wise American political adviser once said, the “appropriate aggressor” wins the debate,” he says.
JP 9.03pm: Gordon Brown is claiming he would cut the House of Lords in half. In fact New Labour promised to reform the Lords in 1997 but failed to do anything, as Cameron is pointing out this very second.
JP 9.00pm David Cameron is talking about how he made his Tory MPs pay back their wrong expenses. He doesn’t mention the fact that he had to pay back something near to a thousand pounds. Interesting.
JP 8.57pm Alastair Stewart is an almost invisible presence. That’s probably deliberate, and it works quite well. I’m wondering about Cameron’s position in the centre though. Everyone had claimed that by standing between the other two he would dominate events, just as Vince Cable did during the chancellors’ debate. I was always cautious about that theory, thinking that maybe Vince shone because he is more impressive than Osborne and Darling. And so far, Cameron’s central position is not doing him any favours that I can see.
AB 8.56pm Cameron has just played the mum card. It’s getting pretty brutal down in Manchester.
AB 8.55pm Alan thinks the practice is showing a bit too much.
Brown seems to be fading a bit into the background in this debate, at least at this stage. You can hear the debate prep in too many of his answers.
AB 8.53pm Do you think Gordon chose the pink tie himself? One of those ones for weddings that’s hidden at the back of your cupboard? And he’s just cracked the first joke of the debate. And it wasn’t bad. (That the Tories had put posters all over Britain showing him smiling).
JP: 8.52pm Gordon Brown is now talking about a youth club run by his father and brother when he was a youngster. Again, I suspect all three have been trained to use real-life examples in their oratory.
AB: 8.48pm Clegg is on a roll. Seems relaxed. No sign of his tetchy side. Speaking at a engaging pace. Brown seems to slowing down, which is helping. But still has a tendency to blurt out statistics and explain government structures. Cameron is playing the “I’m met a young man” line very well. Certainly performing as well as could be expected.
JP: 8.46pm: Yep, the spinners are all at it. Just spotted a Twitter from Eric Pickles claiming he was disappointed by Clegg’s performance. Does that mean he’s alarmed that the Lib Dem is doing rather well? Alan reckons that the low-angle wide shot of the cameras works quite well. It’s a bit too “Dancing on Ice” for my more puritan tastes.
AB: 8.44pm: Spin Alert: Macrory
DC only candidate to apologise for the expenses scandal, clear indication that David intends to talk directly to the people
JP: 8.42pm David Cameron has carried off one of the first rules of successful political debating – quote real live people. He said he had run into a black 40-year old in Plymouth who thought immigration should be restricted. Quoting real people is great technique, as Robert Barnett, adviser to eight Democratic contenders told me the other day.
btw, Alan reckons that Clegg seems quite boyish, but we think he is doing rather well so far.
AB: 8.40pm Brown seems to be rattling off his answers much faster than Cameron and Clegg. Not sure it is effective. Cameron seems much more confident about making his point inside a minute. Brown risks trying to cram too much into his answers.
JP: 8.37pm. The first, potentially deadly question is from a retired toxicologist. Immigration. All three want to control immigration, but not too much. Cameron’s eyebrows are going higher than ever before. And his make-up looks quite visible, even 20 ft from the television.
JP: 8.36pm: We’ve had Brown talking about the economy, the economy and the economy. Then Cameron talked about his chance to sort out Britain. Both seem to have had recent haircuts.
AB: 8.35pm A pretty solid start from Clegg in spite of the camera zooming in on his face. Brown grabbed the lecturn in a pretty purposeful way. And Cameron looked polished. But his eyebrows are reaching for the sky.
JP: 8.33pm: Clegg is talking and sounds every so slightly patronising. Bright yellow tie. He wants to do things “differently”. What happened to “better”? It’s the ernest vote. I have to say, the format is very “ITV”. Lots of bright colours and inexpensive razzmatazz.
AB 8.30pm And we’re off. It looks a bit like a game show. They are all wearing dark suits. They’re casting long shadows.
JP: 8.26pm The politicians would love to talk about policy all day long, naturally. But they are more likely to be judged by the little things they say or do. For example, Bush senior’s mistake of looking at his watch. Or this neat little comment from Reagan which dismantled his opponent.
JP: 8.24pm Alan Schroeder, our guest contributor (author of “Presidential Debates”) is only in Britain this week to watch the debates as an expert. Here are his first thoughts for us:
1] This format–at least on paper–is execrable. Ostensibly a dialogue between candidates and voters, the debate is more accurately structured as a game of “animal, mineral, or vegetable” in which the questioners are on hand to designate categories, then shut up as the three leaders take turns pontificating.
2] I find it strange that this first debate is being carried exclusively on ITV. American debates are simulcast on all the major networks, which helps account for the enormous ratings. The three network sponsors of the British debates are taking a more proprietary approach to the debates, which strikes me as a mistake. These are not normal television programs. They are part of the nation’s political history, and as such they should made as widely available as possible.
3] Although Sky TV has been devoting a good portion of its air-time to pre-debate coverage today, the general level of media attention seems extremely subdued by American standards. On debate day in the U.S., the cable news networks kick off their wall-to-wall coverage hours in advance, with countdown clocks superimposed on the screen to remind viewers exactly how much time remains before the start of the main event. Instead of hyping the bout to come, ITV is using the run-up to the debate to air “Coronation Street”–an odd programming decision, to say the least.
AB: 8.20pm If you feel like rating the debate with a fancy online dial, Facebook have set up a fantastic gadget. We’ll let you know what the Facebook crowd think through the debate.
JP: 8.15pm I should make a serious point now before we go on. There is not always a “winner” in a political debate. At least not immediately. Not unless David Cameron forgets his lines, or Gordon Brown attacks one of the others, or Clegg storms off in a huff. Instead everything has to be crunched through the so-called “spin cycle”. Advisers for every party will be trying to convince the fourth estate, the bloggers and the public – in no particular order – that they have won. That means releasing clips of their man’s greatest moments, and clips of their rivals’ worst moments. And the rest of the country will discuss it for hours or days.
JP: 8.10pm Nick Watt at the Guardian is claiming there is already one winner – and he sits within the Tory camp.
Damian Green, the Tory shadow immigration minister, who is playing the role of Gordon Brown in the David Cameron preparations. Maybe Nick, maybe. A brilliant piece of Kremlinology. Or – call me cynical – Green has been picked out because he looks a bit dishevelled and tired, much like the prime minister himself. It’s not impossible.
JP: 8.03pm The most striking element of the pre-debate briefing has been each party downplaying its own candidate. It’s only natural. They all want to enter the debate with low expectations. So Brown’s people have been spinning that David Cameron is some kind of genius of communications, who will (effectively) wipe the floor with the prime minister. This is called expectation management. Cameron’s people, in turn, suggest that he’s a bag of nerves. In fact, all three are not unused to performing in public, on live television. Of course this is in an entirely different league, however.
JP: 7.58pm I’ve been emailed by a reader who thinks Alex looks like Nixon: clearly it would be disloyal to agree with him. The strange thing about Nixon vs JFK was that everyone presumes that the latter won; in fact, the common presumption at the time was that Nixon bested him in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th debates. It was the first – when he had just come out of hospital and was sweating profusely – that was a disaster. After that his team put him on a “milkshake diet” to get him looking more normal. Plus they made him wear make-up, which he didn’t in the first one.
AB: 7.55pm The spin wars have started. Here’s a tweet from Tory spindoctor Henry Macrory:
Ouch! Alistair Campbell has just tripped up the stairs on his way to TV debate spin room. Nerves??
JP: 7.51pm Another thing our guru told us was that the producers and politicians can rip the rules if tonight is a failure. It’s there in the rules, point 76. Each party has the right to recall the negotiating panel if they want to “discuss issues arising from the debates”. In other words, if it’s sterile, they might shake things up. The broadcasters keep insisting that things will be exciting and free-flowing, but not everyone agrees.
Another reminder of past glories from US presidential debates. This is from the very first one, 1960, the famous JFK versus Richard Nixon.
AB: 7.45pm We’re back. Alan was great company. We particularly enjoyed his explanation of how American TV producers avoid the presidential sweating problem. To avoid the fate of Nixon, presidential hopefuls always have a personalised air conditioner installed in the ceiling of the TV studios. The air is apparently diffused to avoid their hair being put out of place. Not sure the ITV budget will stretch to that.
AB: 6.45pm: We’re off to see Alan at the pub for a quick refreshment but should be back here with more thoughts in about half an hour. I’ve leave you for the moment with one of the classic mistakes from a US debate: Jimmy Carter talking about his 13-year old daughter, Amy, and her thoughts on nuclear weapons.
JP: 6.40pm: I can’t find the Kerry-Bush rules online but I read them a few weeks ago. They are full of hilarious detail. For example, the exact temperature of each candidate’s glass of water. Whether they should use a pencil or a pen. The height of their podiums. Absolute minutiae.
AB: 6.37pm We’ve got lots of props at our disposal. For example, the full list of 76 rules which all three will have to stick to. If you want to look at it yourself you can follow this link. Sounds a bit prescriptive. But look on the bright side – it’s only a couple of pages. The Kerry-Bush rules for 2004 go on forever. And the rumour is that the Obama-McCain agreement stretches to 100 pages.
JP: 6.36pm PMQs is a bear pit. It’s loads of angry people trying to shout each other down. Plus you can only ask questions of the prime minister, he – in theory – can’t ask anyone else. Tonight everyone will be much more civilised, in theory. At least, you’ll be able to hear them speak. The audience has been ordered to sit in silence. Apart from clapping at the beginning and end. Apparently anyone who sneezes or laughs will be taken out and shot by ITN producers.
And the main difference is Nick Clegg. In PMQs he’s always jeered at, for no other reason than he happens to be a Liberal Democrat and his gang is smaller than the others. This time he’s on an equal footing with the other two. Given that he usually sounds quite reasonable (I’m not saying his policies are, necessarily) that’s a danger for them.
AB: 6.35pm The theory is that we didn’t need it before because we had Prime Minister’s Questions. That was Gordon Brown’s excuse until last autumn at least. But it’s not quite the same, is it?
JP: 6.34pm I know we often get cynical about these things but this is the real deal, isn’t it? The first time it’s happened in this country. As someone pointed out, we’re behind Mongolia, Colombia, even Afghanistan. But we’re finally there.
AB: 6.33pm Our comrades Jean Eaglesham and George Parker are soaking up the atmosphere in Manchester at the actual debates.
JP: 6.32pm In reality he will be just up the road in a hotel in Trafalgar Square. We are in the House of Commons, preparing to watch the debate on television – like most of the country – but can’t get Alan into the building because guests are banned during election time. But he’ll be sending us his thoughts by email during the course of the debate.
AB: 6.31pm: Well in theory Alan is with us.
JP: 6.30pm Your hosts for the evening are as usual Jim Pickard and Alex Barker. But we are also fortified by James Boxell, our home affairs correspondent (tonight’s debate is on domestic issues).
And what’s more we have Alan Schroeder, a US professor who wrote arguably the best book on the US head-to-heads (Presidential Debates, Fifty Years of High-Risk TV).