Last night, the Tory leader did far better than in the previous debate. He started a bit slowly, and improved as the debate went one (as opposed to Nick Clegg, who began well and deteriorated as the evening wore on). In the end, I think he won the debate.
Though we may now be heading back to Planet Normal after the Wonders of Cleggland, the Lib Dem leader does two things very well, which Team Tory need to study: sincerity and charm. On camera and in the debates, he sounds more sincere, more empathetic. Yes, he also sounds more flippant. But he does emote really well. Nobody expects Gordon Brown to do that - but it is meant to be David Cameron's forte. Yet he is being “out-emoted”.
Pundits will have us believe that the public is tired of the well-spoken politician-cum-actors like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. But don’t believe a word of it. Voters may not want a certain kind of politicians – big-grinned, smooth, and overly emotional – but that does not mean they don’t want their leaders to connect with them, to feel their pain, to share their concerns. In a post-spin world, to be able to emote in an authentic and sincere way is key.
When Nick Clegg said to one of the members of the audience that she looked young, she smiled, batted her eyelids shyly but looked very happy – and will now go and vote for the Lib Dems. David Cameron had a chance to do the same, when a sprightly-looking 82-year-old asked a question about pensions. She did not look a day over 70 and the Tory leader should have laid it on – sure, pundits would have cringed, sure it could have backfired and come across as insincere, but the Tory leader should be able to emote convincingly and the lady would probably have lapped it up – as would her peers. But he played it straight and safe.
As he studies for the next debate, David Cameron would do well to study the Big Tear-Jerker, Mr. Emote, ex-president Bill Clinton. For he needs to out-emote and outcharm Nick Clegg if he wants to win. Gordon Brown said last night that if the election is about charm, then the voters should count him out. And they duly have. But they have not yet decided who is this election’s Mr Charm, who is Prince Sincere.