First Leaders’ Debate – Where to now?

Politics is a fast moving game. What’s done is done and you have to get on with things. After the first Leaders’ Debate last night on TV3/Newstalk all the Leaders will be pondering what they have to do for the next time. Here at Slugger O’Toole we are all heart. So Johnny Fallon has some free and open advice for each of the participants.

Micheál Martin
– Next time out everyone will be gunning for you. Welcome this, a strong performance lets you take centre stage but be prepared the FF record is going to be thrown thick and fast next time out.

– A good debate is all well and good but the hard part is turning it into votes. You need it to link to your candidates on the ground. The debate must link more to FF policy, what is it that’s different? What is the idea or change? So far the policies all sound pretty much the same. There will be no votes in a debate unless you can tie your performance to your party policy and its benefit.

– There must be something more personal. With the historic stuff coming at you it won’t be easy. You need to find the personal journey, the lessons you learned and took with you, your transformation must mirror the transformation ordinary people have felt. Their outlook has changed, has yours?

– Watch the hand movements, a little bit of expression is great but too much will become distracting.

Enda Kenny
– The pressure will be on to keep Micheal Martin in check. You need to interject but be careful do it sparingly. Do not get involved in head to head bickering. 3 good put downs in the course of the show, well timed, will do the trick.

– Yes you need to step forward a bit more but not too much. Don’t get goaded into a fight. When you do the body language screams your irritation. You need to hold that relaxed look. Martin will be pushing your buttons, avoid getting riled by it.

– Focus the debate on the narrative. Each mention of progress must be followed with what happens next. Don’t leave the point hanging like its a clap on your own back. Let people know there is a plan you are working to.

– Don’t keep reverting to the FF past. A few lines on this will be fine, but remember to de-construct their current policy too.

Gerry Adams
– We all like a passionate speaker. However, there can be a fine line between passion and aggression. You need to tone this down.

– Do not use the word ‘Mandate’. Ever again. It’s over use in the northern context has made it a bingo word that just distracts the viewers.

– The other Leaders want to suck you in to a row where you are left looking defensive and angry. You cannot let this happen. Dismiss them quickly and move on.

– Your control of the argument on figures has improved but be careful of it. It is pulling you into a head to head where you are focussed on the failures or wrongs of the other parties and then made to look angry. People need to see a compassionate side to you. They don’t want to hear of what is wrong with the other parties, they know that. They want you to show them you are not just the party of tough guys. Human stories compassionately delivered are the key here.

– Understated, humble and natural are qualities often overlooked in a debate like this. Find the opportunities to use them.

Joan Burton
– Keep calm. Opening the debate was hard but you cannot let those nerves show through. Yes the party is in a tough place but in truth its unlikely to get worse, this is a chance to make it better.

– Stop the interruptions and quick comments. They annoy the listener and they are the unrehearsed points where you are most likely to say something in error. Time and place your interjections carefully. Make them and withdraw do not keep bickering over the point.

– The men are all focussed on standing tall and looking tough. Call them on it. Use your smile a lot more. Relax into the role. Differentiate yourself from them, don’t let them dominate the tone.

– In 2011 the Labour figures slid down as Eamon Gilmore got more and more friendly with Enda Kenny in Debates. Look back over the debate. Note how many times you went out of your way to share the credit with Enda and FG and how many times it was reciprocated. You cannot afford to be seen like a complete team. Labour must have its own identity. You need to know those issues and disagree with Enda on them. If you don’t disagree in the debate how can we ever imagine you disagreeing behind closed doors? Enda will get over it. Your party comes first right now.