Thursday night ITV’s Julie Etchingham had arguably one of the most difficult jobs on television: regulating a debate between seven political parties. The Leaders Debate, the ‘big one’, the ‘mass debate’ – whatever you want to call it, it is certainly a huge factor in the General Election. The debate featured four questions from an audience of 200 people and lasted a whole two hours that included a lot of scapegoating, shouting and angst among the leaders and the viewers who were live-tweeting the programme.
The first question asked by the now Twitter-famous Jonny was on cuts and how exactly parties plan to balance them and where they plan to use them. It is clear that this was a touchy question for leaders as there was the similar response from Cameron and Miliband where both of them blame each other. The same old rhetoric occurs from Cameron as he says the choice is between a ‘chaotic’ Labour government and the seemingly safe option of Conservatives as they will ‘follow the plan’ that is ‘working’. Despite this, Miliband promised to balance the books by introducing mansion tax before slamming his rival David Cameron for not making the rich pay an extra penny.
Then came UKIP leader Nigel Farage who said he’d make the cuts from EU migrants and talked his usual, offensive and borderline opinion on immigration and how we could cut foreign aid to pay the national debt.
On the Twitter tag ‘#leadersdebate’, there seemed to be no clear winner at all as most of the discussion was mocking the ‘posh boy’ Jonny who raised the issue in the first place.
The burning question on a lot of voters’ minds was the NHS and the privatisation of it thanks to the current government. How will it get better and how will it be done?
With various strong points raised by each leader, it was once again Miliband, Clegg and Cameron who stole the show during this question, but this is where we also saw the rise of Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon come to play. The first valid point to be raised was by Miliband who slammed David Cameron and his complacent attitude to the NHS and told him straight that he ‘betrayed’ the nation and will fail to gain trust from the public because of the decreasing quality of our National Health Service. Sturgeon also agreed with Miliband and condemned the actions of the Tories when it comes to the NHS.
Then Nick Clegg entered the open debate. He was the only leader who addressed a growing issue of mental health inequality and he seemingly prioritised that, earning praise from the Director of Campaigns at mental health charity Young Minds, Lucie Russell, who said she had ‘great respect’ for the Lib Dem leader.
It was obvious that Miliband and Clegg outshone other leaders in this topic and UKIP leader Nigel Farage simply put shame on himself and his party. Farage claimed that 60% of those diagnosed with HIV in the UK are foreigners and he said that we ‘must put our people first’ facing criticism from Leanne Wood (The Party of Wales leader) who said he should be ‘ashamed of himself’ and Sturgeon who said she treats the ill ‘like human beings’ before looking at the country they are from.
This question seemingly belonged to the controversial UKIP leader Farage as he expressed his views on the EU and immigrants coming into the UK.
Farage further expressed that the ‘referendum talk’ only occurred because of the rise of UKIP and that the only way to ensure that the public’s apparent ‘opinion on immigration’ is heard is by making sure there are UKIP MPs in Parliament after May 7th.
However, Clegg jumped in and defended immigration saying that the NHS would ‘fall apart overnight’ if we left the EU and if it weren’t for immigrants in the country already. Clegg told of how he wants to ‘train up’ young people to do the jobs that have and will be created and that are of more skill and higher pay.
But Farage stepped in again and said that immigration can’t be controlled by the UK if we are still members of the EU, to which Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru said she also agreed.
The younger generation
Arguably one of the most provocative and valuable questions of the four, it prompted great discussion of vast topics and heated debates from most of the leaders.
It started with Miliband who said he wanted all young people to have a quality education and an access to it no matter what. He pointed out that neither himself, Clegg or Cameron had to have up to forty-thousand pounds worth of debt after university and said that the difference with him is that he will do something about it. Miliband also promised that he will cut tuition fees from nine thousand pound per year to six, build more homes for the young and that he ‘believes’ in ‘restoring’ the young generation.
David Cameron, the man who plans to cut education further if he gets into power after the election, says he wants to create two million more jobs and wants young people to have a ‘choice’ between an apprenticeships and university. Overall, Cameron proved disappointing to those tweeting and was upstaged by his red rival Ed Miliband.
After Nick Clegg admitted to his ‘failure’ when it comes to tuition fees, SNP leader Sturgeon was at work again and said that ‘education should be about the ability to learn, not the ability to pay’.
Then, when the two-hour saga was over, ITV’s instant poll revealed that of 1,000 viewers, Ed Miliband had recruited 30% of them to vote Labour with Cameron and the Conservatives not far behind with 29% of the undecided on his team.