BBC Spotlight European Debate #SpotlightNI

So, tonight I wandered over to the BBC to watch the last European candidates’ debate. What became apparent within the first ten minutes is how much political coverage in Northern Ireland misses Noel Thompson-an effective chairman with a dry wit and real knowledge of the issues.

On to the debate itself-the format was excellent with fewer candidates being given longer to debate. It was really was a night and day experience from UTV last night as Thompson was able to probe candidates further and the audience being there really added something to the debate.

The Candidates

Anderson continued with her winning strategy of calmly demonstrating her vast knowledge of European funding streams and the need for Northern Ireland to draw down funds from Horizon 20/20 and the European Investment Bank. When she was put under pressure by Allister over the victim’s issue, she very skilfully turned away from the issue by simply saying that looking back would not achieve anything. Overall, I think she did enough to consolidate her position going into the final two days of the race; she acted like a winner and as somebody who was getting ready for another term in Brussels.

Dodds did well on issues like immigration, which did come as some surprise to me. She was strong in condemning racist attacks in Belfast and actually highlighted that the DUP now publishes its literature in 7 different languages to appeal to a wider group of voters. She didn’t really get tripped up over controversial issues such as the Maze and actually held her own throughout much of the debate. Only critique was at the start she fell into the trap of ‘I am one of your best MEPs….’ And like I said in another post this doesn’t really work.

Nicholson much to my surprise seemed more engaged than he did last night. He was able to articulate some key successes of his tenure in Europe from peace funding to agriculture subsidies. I was a bit taken a back when he spoke about abortion with his statement that too many men comment on the issue and he appeared to be really wrestling with his conscience over it. It was a rare human moment from him that I have certainly never seen before and overall, I think he can come out of tonight with a smile on his face.

Attwood had a very good night-he was clear and articulate throughout the debate. There were strong statements on European membership, abortion and agriculture which I think is vital in giving his campaign and the SDLP some depth. Like Nicholson, he didn’t get tripped up and did a very good job over taking on Allister about how well Northern Ireland would do outside the European Union. The SDLP should be incredibly happy tonight and if Attwood gets in on Monday-this performance could’ve sent many crucial voters his way.

Allister was interestingly the only candidate without any notes with him. He was prepped, prepared and ready to do battle and it showed. He went on the attack early and often which was crucial for him to do as he needs to motivate those TUV voters or disaffected Unionists to come out for him, rather than Henry Reilly. His base would’ve loved his attacks on Anderson over victims with statements like ‘it wasn’t very fair planting bombs’ and his attacks on Europe will have appealed to UKIP voters. Importantly at the end he took on the notion of vote splitting and really nailed it that Unionists can use their transfers to ensure a second seat.

Lo did well in parts of the debate-she was strong when she took on Dodds over Robinson and condemning racist attacks in East Belfast and spoke well over the issue of abortion. Some of her wider message did get a bit lost in parts of the debate as she didn’t really have any rebuttal to the Euro question and she did run over in her opening statement which to her being cut off. Progressives/Liberals/Letsgetalongerists (as FJH would say) would have liked her position on abortion and her emphasis on using EU funds for shared future projects; I am not sure however, that she appealed outside of her base in this debate.

Overall-I would give the debate to Allister along with Attwood. None of the contenders really tripped up and Dodds would get the prize of the most improved performer from last time. I think each appealed to their base, but I just suspect Attwood might have given something to other voters to bump him up a notch on their ballot papers.

What did you guys think?

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  • Charles_Gould

    A good assessment David.

    In terms of stature, labour values, and overall grasp of the issues, Alex Attwood far outshines Martina Anderson. He has grown in sureness of touch in this campaign.

    I was not as impressed with Anderson as you were: I thought was all at sea on some of the questions and didn’t really get any obvious message across.

    My ranking of the performances:

    1. Attwood, 2, Nicholson, Allister 3 Dodds, and 4 Anderson and Lo.

  • Ironic that the two main contenders…Anderson and Dodds are such lightweights.
    The third seat…if we assume that Nicholson is under threat…presents a choice of what kind of Norn Iron want.
    Both Attwood and Allister (the star performers over two nights) articulated their different vision. Their core support will have been pleased. Up to the voters to decide …they both probably attracted some voters beyond their core.

  • Dixie Elliott

    I thought needed Jeremy Kyle myself…

  • Outsider

    Three way fight for the last seat could see Allister or Attwood – Nicholson crumbled too much and may no longer be a contender.

  • thethoughtfulone

    Allister and Attwood the only two decent politicians among the lot, speaks volumes for the state of politics in this country and indeed the mindset of the electorate that neither of them are likely to triumph.

  • iluvni

    And to think some clamour for more women in local politics….those three are beyond dire.

  • stewart1

    Thought Anderson did well on the European issues, as did Allister.

    Dodds got flustered by Allister on non EU issues..the Maze etc..

    Lo, Attwood, Nicholson much of a muchness! Although, Nicholson was better.

    BBC went for the ‘let’s get a row on local issues’ type of format. Very ‘Stephen Nolan/Jeremy Kyle’ type debate.

    Bit disturbed at the anti-immigration stance of some on the panel.

    Overall – poor format with the usual NI BBC crowd cheering, booing etc…

    Very Tabloid!

  • GoldenFleece

    Can anyone tell me why in their opening statements that 5 out of 6 professional politicians had to read from a sheet for one minute?

    Just one minute?

    I dislike Jim Allister for his views, but at least he didn’t look at a sheet ALL night.

  • Backbencher

    If it came down to ability Allister would get all three quotas, alas in Northern Ireland politics ability doesn’t appear to matter (you only have to look at the Assembly or local Councils). I suspect the three incumbents will be re-elected.

  • Outsider

    Disgraceful to think that our better politicians will be cast aside because people want to vote for the status quo.

  • Politico68

    Charles, OMG, lol, u basically copy and pasted your comment from the other thread !! LOL, do u support the SDLP perhaps?

    Clearly Allister is head and shoulders above them all but he is such a hateful sneering wee man I think it is good he won’t win, we have sent enough embarrassing Unionists to Brussels, we don’t need to make a habit of it.

    Dodds reminds me of a nun.

    Alex is in my view one of the most under-appreciated politicians in Ireland, I would love to see him get that third seat. He certainly deserves it and has worked for it.

    I also really like Nicholson, I have met him a few times and I just warm to him, i think he can be a bit stiff on TV and I actually believe he is probably tired of Europe too.

    Anderson reminds me of my Aunty Ann, kinda giddy and pretty and all colourful. She knows her stuff but i think it will be a couple of years before she is polished up.

    For me Alex was the star… i want to share that with Allister but I cant bring myself to do it because his sneering grins just get on my nerves.

  • tacapall

    Last night was the most boring spotlight I have ever watched Anna Lo just talked for the sake of talking, Alex Attwood sounded like a priest reciting the gospel to his flock. Dodds sounded as if she was a reincarnation of Maggie Thatcher she’s obviously well tutored, Martina Anderson was like one of them puppets from Thunderbirds, honestly has she got a set of strings that someone controls when she starts talking. Jim Nicolson mumbled his way through and at times froze like he was hypnotised trying to remember, maybe dementia setting in. Jim Allister was his usual ignorant arrogant blinkered self, a snakeoil salesman who has a solution to fix all our problems.

    Im glad I take no part in elections when people like above are wheeled out as politicians you can trust to act in our best interests.

  • Outsider

    Politco68 – very mature lets vote for the lesser candidates because you have hatred for Jim Allister whom is your own words is head and shoulders above the rest.

  • Doug


    At the risk of inviting Godwin into the conversation – I think it’s perfectly valid to accept that someone is a better / more capable politician but still decide not to vote for them based on personal preference / principles.

  • Outsider

    With the fear factor at play Doug.

  • Doug

    Sorry Outsider, I don’t get you.
    Could you elaborate? I’m sure it’s an obvious point you’re making and I’ve missed it, but humour me, I had about an hour’s sleep at 7 last night and have been up since.

  • Outsider

    Well DUP have said vote Allister and split the Unionist vote and end up with two Nationalist MEPs.

  • Doug

    I get you now.
    Sorry, I’m simultaneously dealing with a newborn, a full time job and a new house that I’m doing most of the work to myself. So I’m operating at an infinitely reduced capacity at the minute.

  • Outsider

    No problem Doug – you shouldn’t even be on here 🙂

  • FuturePhysicist

    What you call a vast knowledge is really admiration of the buzz words “Horizon 2020” if it was vast, then she could detail the specific administration processes and the remit of research that can be carried out along with the particular areas of science that are likely to draw funding.

    But let’s work with “vast” here