If I were to judge the generic effectiveness of TV debates as the potential fulcrum of future politics we might look no further than our own backyard squabble on UTV last night. For us, there were no surprises. The highlights were the set piece questions: Adams on the IRA and Robinson on the five pound strip of land. But these had nothing much to do with the election.
And both were necessarily truncated by side shifting and the commercial breaks. The rest, bar Margaret Ritchie reading from notes (her momentarily impressive patches came only when she neglected her notes to react to opponents), falls easily into forgetfulness.
Reg impressed as the only politician who was really on top of his brief, but Ivor is probably right when he says he failed to hit any serious home runs.
Robinson fielded his questions without losing his temper. But he looks and sounds what he clearly is: a tired and emotional man who has been through a personal mill of enormous proportions.
All through it, Gerry Adams’ folksy banter (signalling “I’m not really taking this seriously, you know”) registered his voice/messages above all the others. But it was on the opposite scale from Reg: high impact coupled with low seriousness. It’s an approach that utterly died on its feet in the Republic. But in the tribal context of Northern Ireland, he probably did what he needed to do (keep the blood of his supporters up).
He even got an uncountered ‘crack’ in about the SDLP supporting the Iraq Afghanistan war. Utter nonsense of course, but Margaret was too busy clutching her notes to take him to task for it.
There were several differences between this and the UK fight . One was deftly illustrated by UTV’s choice of intro music: “When two tribes go to war…” We are still caught in a regionalist tribal bash. Gerry plays that game better and more casually than any of the rest. So he gets the only point going on impact. .
But also, whilst the three UK leaders never have the opportunity to go the full fifteen with each other anywhere never mind TV. Our lot have been through the mill for many nights of the last nearly 20 years. There is simply was no wow factor here because we think we’ve heard them all at it before.
So the verdict. On tribal impact: Sinn Fein 1 UUP 0, DUP 0, SDLP – 1… On politics: UUP 2; DUP 1; Sinn Fein 0; SDLP 1.
But how was it for you?
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty