Fraser Nelson

Cameron shines, Clegg wobbles and Brown sinks

Cameron shines, Clegg wobbles and Brown sinks
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Well, Cameron saved the best till last. His aides are even joking that they could do with a fourth debate because their man is really getting in the swing of it. He looked more confident, assured – and spoke convincingly about immigration at last, a subject he fluffed last time. I’d place Clegg second. Brown was worse than awful: third in this debate, and will probably be third next week’s election too. Clegg was his usual telegenic self – in thespian terms, an accomplished performance. But he ran away from his own asylum policy, and was comically inept with the facts. He screamed at Cameron: “Will you admit that 80 percent of immigrants come from the EU?” Cameron did not: because the real figure is a third. To get a basic fact like this wrong, and to shout about it so loudly, is to disqualify oneself from serious political consideration.

Like Pete, I thought Clegg won the first 20 minutes or so. But as the debate went on, he started to sound daft. “Wouldn’t it be a good thing to get the Chancellors and vice-Chancellors of the parties together?” It would be, if Vice Chancellors existed. With his little flourishes - “tonight’s debate is about you!” – he deployed his gameshow host mode. Clegg the Showman came armed with little catchphrases: “here they go again” and “political point-scoring!” “Style of old politics!” But they lost their novelty effect this time – as he had.

Brown tried his clunking fist act, and would have knocked himself out if he wasn’t already dead in the water. He looked dreadful, as if he hadn’t slept last night, and all the foundation in the world could not disguise it. He sounded simply implausible with his claim that Cameron’s plan to cut an (inadequate) 1 percent from state spending would plunge the country into crisis. Brown looked pitiful at the end, on the close-up. And just in case anyone was in any doubt, he flashed one of his scary pantomime villain smiles by way of a closing gesture. Exit stage left.  

Cameron could have done far better on the economy – but that is the story of his leadership. He had the biggest sitting duck in the world next to him, and didn’t manage to land any blows. Brown always drags economic debates into a subject of statistical warfare: Cameron should turn it into real-world issues. For example: “Gordon, you take people for fools if you think they’ll believe that cutting 1 percent from government spending will plunge the economy into mortal peril.” The Tory leader did score some points against Clegg when it came to the Euro, though.

Also, when Clegg was saying “true or false!” about his 80 percent figure, I’d quite like for Cameron to have been able to say ‘false’. You don’t have to know much about immigration to know that, depending on which measure you use, EU-born people are about a quarter to a third of the UK total. This metric is the basic starting point to working out what policymakers can do about immigration. If Clegg was right, and 80 percent was from the EU, then no policy could really work short of EU withdrawal. So Cameron must have known that his figure was bogus.

Anyway, we’re seven days away from an election, and I think this focused the mind – helping Cameron. His words carried more weight because he will probably be Prime Minister in ten days’ time. Clegg provided the light relief: he did come across as a rather trivial figure. That’s better than coming across as a dull, exhausted bully – which Mr Brown did. So this is why I place them first, second and third. As, I suspect, the electorate will next week