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.
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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