Tom Sutcliffe: Clegg grows into a man with the confidence to interrupt first

The terms of political trade were altered dramatically in the first debate. Last night did nothing to restore the old order

Share
Related Topics

As Nick Clegg found out last week, 90 minutes is a long time in politics. And as everyone at home found out this week, it can feel like a very long time on television, too. In prospect the second of the leaders' debates had been infinitely more enticing than the first.

Yes, the novelty might have diminished but then so had any cynicism about the effect these encounters might have on the political climate. Sky News weren't just broadcasting it in High Definition. It was going to be scrutinised in high definition too – with a far keener sense of the importance of each performance.

In practice, despite that, it was impossible not to feel that an hour and a half may be more ground-breaking political excitement than the ordinary punter can take. In an accidental breach of the ban on mordant reaction shots, a wide angle of the audience caught a man failing to stifle a yawn at around the 60-minute mark – and I suspect he gaped for quite a few viewers at home. An hour would be ample.

Sky had built up to it as if it was a Moon launch. "One minute to go and counting," said Kay Burley, as the SkyCopter hovered over the Bristol location. And it was pretty soon clear that no one had failed to launch. They were all better this time round – even the set, which looked like the fragments of an ash-downed British Airways jet. Gordon Brown seems to have lost the fear of failure – perhaps because he's accepted the inevitable – and came out markedly more relaxed than last week. "If it's all about style and PR, count me out," he said. If it's all about a good make-up job and a better haircut, though, count him in.

Cameron too was crisper and more forceful, using his opening statement to try to lever open one of Clegg's weak points. But Clegg had grown the most – not a cat standing disdainfully on the sidelines of a dogfight any more but a figure with the confidence to interrupt first.

In the queue to disagree, Clegg was rarely second – and he showed no sign of deferring to either of his opponents. He was prepared to go below the belt with Cameron too, answering a point about the European Union by pointing out that Conservative MEPs had voted against a joint police operation to arrest continental paedophiles. Vote Cameron if you want your kiddies to be fiddled with.

Most of the cheesy anecdotes and worked up punchlines had disappeared. And Brown wasn't agreeing with Nick anymore. He was imitating him though, wheeling out a pre-prepared line at a point when Clegg was bickering with Cameron. "You know who these two guys remind me of?" he chuckled confidentially at the audience. "My two boys squabbling at bath time." It was second-hand and calculated and it didn't convince. He had another bad moment too when the small voice at the back of his mind screamed "smile", unfortunately choosing a moment when he was halfway through a sentence about the traumas of child abuse.

Clegg's worst moment came after Adam Boulton – frustrated by a role that is little more than a glorified traffic policeman – opened out a question on public trust in politicians by turning to the Liberal Democrat leader: "You're on the front page of The Daily Telegraph today," he said mischievously. Clegg shook it off briskly but the surprise of it briefly left him shaken too – for the only time in the evening.

And Cameron flared into genuine anger over Labour claims on Conservative plans for pensioners – an unrehearsed frustration which probably will have served him better than the synthetic intensity he deployed at several other points.

Unlike last week's debate there was nothing here to change the political map. But there was nothing, either, that was going to reverse last week's redrafting.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own