Back briefly to my point on handicap events. There’s been a lot of comment to the effect that Cameron needed to ‘smash’ Clegg and Brown to win. That he doesn’t just need to win, he needs to win by miles. I’m not so sure that this is true. It’s the same analysis that led people to say that he ought to have been ‘pulverising’ Brown at PMQs, and the fact that Brown wasn’t curled up in a ball on the floor, shaking, meant that Cameron wasn’t winning.
But politics, and debates in particular, don’t work like that. In PMQs, with the support of his party behind him, it’s actually very difficult for a Prime Minister to do much worse than narrowly lose – if he can’t answer the questions, he just has to make irrelevant assertions loudly and confidently and it looks like he’s winning. Similarly in the debates, there simply isn’t the scope for anyone to ‘win’ an argument – there’s not enough back and forth. The only format where someone can really get monstered is the Paxman-style focused interview, where a weakness can be exposed and then relentlessly attacked.
Clegg’s big boost of last week is explained more or less entirely by people in the UK suddenly realising that he existed – and that he was neither obviously drunk or visibly decayed. That’s good in itself for the Lib Dems, but it’s not going to be enough to get them up to the 35-36% they need to supplant Labour as the largest party on the left.
Winning the debate is not the same as winning the election – and for all the certainties floating around, that Cameron ‘can’t’ win or that a Hung Parliament is ‘guaranteed’, nothing is certain this close to an election.