That Newsnight debate: How was it for you?

I think the NI parties probably did best out of getting their own debate on network BBC last night. The contrast with the oddly lopsided UK wider debate was noticeable. That’s probably something to do with the coherent framing of the debate amongst known quantities and viewing them in the same frame the voters will see them in.

Ed Miliband continues to benefit from the low expectations of the audience. But the real touch of genius last night was the Tory leader (who, ironically, was the first to successfully push for a leader’s debate in the first place) in refusing to show.

This left Nigel Farage with no one to punch and the smaller parties all queuing up to take bites out of him when they’d run out of policy related things to say on whatever topic they were talking about.

It added up to frustratingly poor constitutional framing for the debate. Ed Miliband was the only representative actually elected to Westminster. Natalie Bennett is standing in Holborn and St Pancras, but neither of the two nationalist leaders are.

The result was an exercise in increasingly dull opportunism. To take one small example. On housing Nicola Sturgeon mentioned her Government was on target to build 30,000 houses in Scotland.

Is the target of 30k new houses a good one for Scotland? I don’t think anyone else on the panel possesses a reasonable view on that. So it gets ticked through.

On the NI debate, fair play to Newsnight for hosting it and fair play to our politicians for playing a decent game. Given I’m propounding an argument here about framing I’d divide three and two.

The two sitting MPs and the one aspirant one fared much better than Alliance’s Minister for Justice, and the UUP leader. Not sure where Newsnight is giving the UUP a seat (possibly South Antrim), but a candidate would have been a better bet.

Mairtin O’Muilleoir as ever great communicator, and if you like abstention with your MP he made a decent pitch for Sinn Fein’s MPs won’t work at Westminster. One sticky moment where he refused to drawn on Michelle Gildernew’s never say never on taking Westminster seats.

But I’d mark Durkan and Dodds as being way ahead of the rest field since they outlined their actual positions post election. Dodds in particular was across the detail of what they’d look for and why at Westminster. He took the lion’s share of the more memorable back end of the debate.

Durkan was a good choice. He clearly loves the Westminster job and handled himself well against Dodds’ accusation that the SDLP just take the Labour whip. His deeper voice rode through Mairtin’s upper register when he pointed out that SF would not be there to vote down what look like draconian Tory cuts coming in the next Parliament.

There’s more analysis here this morning’s ¢SluggerReport Daily recorded separately on our brand spanking new AudioBoom channel. [If you have an iPhone you can catch it live only on the Periscope each week day at 10am, or thereabouts.]


  • It came across as a beginners guide for the British public to northern politics to me. Nothing we haven’t heard before, it wasn’t worth watching really.

  • Barneyt

    Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the NI debate, but my immediate observation is that there is an obvious alignment between the contributors and the jurisdiction in which they will largely operate or try to serve, which cannot be said for the Britain debate.

    I thought that Ed fielded the Nicola coalition proposals quite well. He had to refuse any potential alignment, even if its a post election must, as this would send out the message that the battle in Scotland was lost and over (which it may be). Nicola knew this. He also had to play the unionist card….for Britain as his aspirations are UK wide and of course must be.

    There is justification for the inclusion of the SNP, and of course through the addition of all other leaders, it raised questions about the DUP. The format however, exposed the election for what it is. Its a British election and in majority terms, excludes NI. That’s a reflection of how the UK is viewed both in the wider British (Britain) public and media and broadcasting outlets.

    For me the most relevant debate to the Britain, in terms of leaders and Westminster, would have been as originally proposed. LIBLABTory and new boys in England, UKIP, despite the SNP insurgency.

  • 23×7

    Obviously Farage was there and provided some light comic relief but I was delighted to see the spectrum of socialist and mildly left wing opinion on offer. Even on the Newsnight N.I. debate most of the opinion was left of center. A positive evening all round I thought.

    A future partnership of Labour, SNP, Greens, Plaid, SDLP and or the DUP would be a great thing for the UK.

  • Robin Keogh

    Is there a link to the deate anywhere?

  • lukeuser

    I think it was a lot more mature than normal, and I do think they discussed issues which aren’t discussed very often by our politicians

  • mickfealty

    I’ll try and YOuTube it later Robin

  • lukeuser
  • Robin Keogh

    Thanks Mick, the NI debate not the other one

  • Robin Keogh

    Thanks Luke but i cant access BBC player here in Wicklow ;(

  • Nevin
  • lukeuser


  • Robin Keogh

    Thanks Nev but I cant access BBC player here in wicklow

  • terry o’neill

    If you have basic IT skills you can download ‘Hola Better Internet’ as a browser ext and you should be able to watch the BBC, I use it for RTE player. It’s totally 100% legal and legit.

    Recommend turning it off when you’re not using it as it causes a bit of lag at times

  • kalista63

    Nigel Farge expressing some unionist style paranoia and MOPEry, insulting the audiene twice within seconds.

    He insulted them literally site ones after this clip by saying NONE of them have any idea about business.

  • LordSummerisle

    The Northern Ireland section was somewhat embarrassing. That may be down to Mr. Davis being unable to phacilitate a debate on an election to the imperial parliament. Focusing rather on devolved issues. Strange to see Mairtin loose the rag somewhat.

  • Zig70

    Did Davis come with an agenda to make the DUP look like right wing homophobic, death penalty supporting nuts to the English? Was a bit of a tap in, not that it would have fazed any local support.

  • Brian O’Neill

  • eiregain

    Seems as though “paxman light” is desperate to get some controversy but he is just too soft and accepting of political rhetoric. As you sadly point out, it will have no effect on the vote.

    Do you think any previous newsnight presenter Kirsty/Jeremy/Laura/Gavin/Emily would have ignored these fundamental differences in attitudes between England and NI?

  • eiregain

    Agreed. It was as though the DUP use of “devolved matters” was there way of ignoring answering any legitimate question, likewise mairtin was below his best and a bit too exuberant and Ford again came across as reasonable but boring Mike is a trickle down capitalist and durkan is tall ( which makes his stooping down low awkward ) . We could watch any political program over the last 6 months and come to the same conclusion.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Too many guests; we didn’t get the probe into the issues. The UK public were left with few ideas about what any of our parties actually stand for.

    Nigel Dodds seemed to get into a panic when the interviewer asked him to explain the party’s views on marriage equality and the death penalty. When he tried to suggest it was a devolved matter, the interviewer pointed out that the DUP had voted against it in the vote effecting England and Wales. It is clear that Dodds understood that such views could damage his party’s prospect of playing the kingmaker role it aspires to. It’s very interesting that the DUP know full well that the policy positions they take in NI are anathema to a UK-wide audience.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Actually I think the UK public need to be aware that a party that seeks to recriminalize homosexuality and reintroduce the death penalty are being asked for help with forming a government.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    On the oddly framed “mainland non-government parties” debate: I’m with Allegra Stratton on thinking that didn’t work well for Cameron at all. Miliband got to look like the responsible one in the room and made him look more prime ministerial. Meanwhile, several parties got two hours of air time with a conversation in which Conservative awfulness was taken as read. Tories desperately trying to get their say in backstage afterwards made them look pretty silly … I think I, like a lot of viewers I suspect, were racking our brains to remember: why was it they didn’t they take part …?

    I am biased as a Labour Party member but I do think the Tories are making a right pig’s ear of this campaign. I notice Ken Clarke, Sir Tim Bell, Lord Ashcroft and lots of other big beasts on the right think so too.

  • Robin Keogh

    It was sad looking at Dodds trying to convince the host that NI contributes so much to the UK, how the guy didnt pizz himself laughing i will never know.In fairness Doddsy managed to dodge the whole Gay Hating issue with some skill while Durkan must have thought WFT am i doing here !! MoM could have been better in my view, he didnt really display any of that shine he seemed to have when he was Mayor. David of course just spat all over the stage while Mike Nesbitt was cool and very confident. The paltry few minutes the BBC alloted for the lads on the hill is indicative of the contempt British society holds NI. Laughable.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I agree it wasn’t a great few minutes of debate. I’m an Evan Davies fan, big time, I think he’s a broadcasting genius usually, but I don’t think it was his finest hour. He got very caught up in the gay issue which I have to say, important though it is, was not worth as much time as he gave it. Exploring other areas suffered as a result, e.g. getting more out of Dodds on the very wide spread of political attitudes held within the DUP parliamentary party, as highlighted by Salmon of Data on here a few weeks ago. By his measure, Dodds is frequently to the left of the SDLP and there are other DUPers there or thereabouts. Gregory Campbell meanwhile has more in common with UKIP. I thought that could have been explored more.

    I agree also Dodds did seem unconvincing on NI’s value to the rest of the country, apart from his stat on NI people making up 20 per cent of the armed forces … can that be true? I do hope so, but it seems astoundingly high. At the moment I don’t think NI is of huge value economically to the rest of the UK, but these things move in cycles. 100-125 years ago, it’s hard to imagine now, but we were an extremely thriving and widely admired region; we were crucial for the UK again at the time of the nation’s greatest ever crisis in WW2; but otherwise our potential has lain more dormant for longer than it should have done. The terror campaigns and their lingering aftermath haven’t helped but aren’t the sole problem either. I think NI suffers from a lack of ambition, for which there are many reasons, but which I do think are more to do with outlook and vision than practical barriers on the ground.

    The extent of division does hold NI back though, not just because of the wasted energy on domestic squabbles, but because of what doesn’t happen as a result – a single future programme for the province we can all commit to and get excited about. But I’m afraid while people have their eyes on other prizes, economy and society in NI will continue to be held back.