Monday, April 20, 2015

Hot Shots! Part Deux

Well, that was actually rather good, wasn't it?  After the last televised debate I was ready to call for this format of electioneering to be binned and never be let see the light of day again.  However, Thursday night's five-way BBC debate from Westminster was a major improvement on the ITV show.  Perhaps having two less speakers made it seem a little less packed and bursting at the seams.  Maybe the sight of David Dimbleby at the helm just leaves you feeling reassured in a way that Julie Etchingham cannot quite achieve.  Or maybe I just enjoyed it because David Cameron wasn't there.

Now, as I am sure you are well aware, the entire British public have been waiting to see what my verdict is on last Thursday's debate.  Pay attention as the following could potentially change the course of May's general election:

Ed Miliband
Prior to the debate I was a little concerned that Ed would be under constant attack from the other four speakers.  It certainly did appear as if it was going to be like that in the opening stages but thankfully the hideous Nigel Farage was lurking in the corner and helping to take some of the heat off.  He endured the onslaught from Farage and Sturgeon extremely well, although his reference to the SNP's position on the 1979 no confidence vote in James Callaghan was ill-advised.  Because of Sturgeon's equally strong showing, it seems highly likely that nothing will have happened here that will prevent his party recording a wretched result north of the border.  Did his bizarre looking-into-the-camera thing again, though this wasn't as irritating as it was during the ITV debate as most of us would have been well prepared in advance.  Finished off by challenging David Cameron to a one-on-one debate, an offer which will never be taken up but at least worked to portray the PM as a weak leader.  Clearly Cameron had his reasons for staying away, but could turning up for the debate really have inflicted more damage than allowing his main rival to freely taunt him on live television?  I doubt it.
Score: 9/10

Nigel Farage
During my review of the last debate I remarked on my continuing disbelief with how the Great British public have been taken in by such a blatant political con job.  Since then Richard Desmond has joined the ranks of those taken in and handed over one million quid of his ill-gotten gains to help fund UKIP's campaign.  I wonder if he felt that Nigel's performance on Thursday night was good value for money?  Farage certainly threw the rulebook for this type of debate right out the window when he decided to attack the "left-wing" BBC audience, only to be swiftly put in his box by Dimbleby who kindly explained that Auntie had nothing to do with the selecting the audience.  And that wasn't the only moment he bombed.  Attempts to embarrass Miliband with questions about what cuts he'd make and whether he would join an 'EU army' backfired too.  Put in a much more solid performance when it came to the issue of debt, but yet another ragged showing from 'Nige'.  Methinks Douglas Carswell is already preparing a post-election challenge for the leadership.
Score: 5/10

Natalie Bennett
Another drab showing in which Bennett seemed out of her depth and at times utterly invisible.  As with the first show, her anti-austerity message was largely drowned out by the much more capable voices of Sturgeon and Wood.  If Caroline Lucas loses her Brighton Pavilion seat next month, the Greens won't have much of a case to make for their inclusion in the next TV debates in five years time.  If that scenario does transpire, party members will surely look back at Natalie Bennett's performance as the squandering of an historic opportunity to finally break into the big time.
Score: 4/10

Nicola Sturgeon
Whilst I wasn't as impressed with her as the rest of the general public seemed to be following the Salford affair a fortnight back, Nicola Sturgeon's display on the BBC One debate was very fine indeed.  Whereas Bennett and Wood delivered their material in a manner which suggested they had possibly over-rehearsed beforehand, Sturgeon spoke with a great flow and confidence - at times you could even say she looked prime ministerial.  Managed to tread the fine line of positioning herself to the left of Labour, her main enemy in Scotland, whilst at the same time making clear that she wanted to "kick David Cameron out of Downing Street".  I'm not a fan of the SNP but, on this occasion, credit where it's due.
Score: 9/10

Leanne Wood
Not a bad display at all by the Plaid Cymru leader.  She pulled no punches with her attacks on UKIP, something which might seem a bit of an obvious and even lazy tactic, but going by the recent opinion polls it is clearly a necessary one.  I'm still uncertain as to whether her reference to Farage as "my friend on the far right" was an intentional jibe or a joke she merely stumbled into by accident.  Didn't gain as much applause for her criticisms of Ed Miliband and is certainly not as good a performer in public as her fellow nationalist, Nicola Sturgeon.  Even so, an improvement on her showing from two weeks ago.
Score: 6/10

So, that's the live televised debates over and done with for another five years.  Next up in TV land is a Question Time general election special next Thursday night featuring the main party leaders.  And Nick Clegg.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Back from the grave

Crystal Castles, pronounced dead last October, are back.  Whether I'm happy about it is still to be decided.  After a period of dejection and struggling to accept the fact that I never would see them live, I had recently come around to accepting that perhaps it was a suitable ending for them.  Three albums seems like a nice number for any band to produce before they implode without warning, doesn't it?  The details around this unexpected re-emergence that has followed so soon after such an abrupt break-up are still unclear, but the murkiest detail of all surrounds who exactly the vocalist is on this new track - 'Frail'.  To my untrained ear they sound eerily similar, nay, identical, to former member Alice Glass.  As for the new tune, not bad at all:

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Natalie Bennett's A Series of Unfortunate Events

What could we call this latest unfortunate event?  The Bad Beginning?

I do wonder sometimes precisely who is running the Green Party's general election campaign.  Surely at some point in the planning process for the launch of their 2015 manifesto, someone brought up the point that perhaps it might be a mistake to launch the document at the exact same time as the Conservatives were publishing their own vision of the future.  If not, why not?  If so, why did nobody deem it worth listening to whoever it was that raised this issue?  

My point in all of this is that I heard very little today in relation to the launch of the Green manifesto, indeed practically nothing until late this evening.  If an old news hound like me misses it, what chance will normal sane people have of hearing about the wonderful list of policies being proposed by Bennett and co?  Very few I would imagine.  Maybe by the time the next general election comes around they will have learned their lesson and worked out to launch it on a day when they are the only party doing such a thing.

On the plus side for the Greens, the manifesto launch clash did reduce Natalie Bennett's time spent on TV and radio today - something which might help the party to win a few votes off sections of the electorate who have not yet had the chance to hear her speak.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Confessions of a Pollaholic

With still around a month to go until general election day, I fear that I might have become addicted to opinion polls.  A couple of nights back I had my first poll-related dream.  Nothing exciting (or kinky for that matter), just a dream that a new poll had been published.  A similar thing occurred last year during the Scottish referendum but this is worse - much worse.  Hardly an hour goes by without me having a peek to see if any measure of the nation's mood has been published and, if one hasn't, I go away feeling a little bit deflated.  If it continues for much longer I will, as a parent might put it, turn into an opinion poll.

The Wikipedia page for opinion polling leading up to this year's general election provides sufficient evidence of why we should all just ignore whatever it is they are saying.  To put it bluntly, they're all over the place.  I have always questioned the accuracy of these statistics but the fluctuations in the results of the polls and the sheer number of them being published for this particular election call into question the whole practice.  Can we really go from having a Labour sizeable lead of six percent one day to having the Tories out in front by one or two percent the next?  Possibly, but it does seem highly unlikely.  Perhaps the grandiosely titled Poll of Polls is the best barometer for gauging the voting intentions of the great unwashed.

Anyhow, I have made a firm decision to try and stay away from opinion polls over the next few weeks.  If I stumble across one on my Twitter feed or in a newspaper, fine.  However, my days of actively going and seeking out polls are over.  I can beat this addiction.  You can too.  Join me.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Meh

No more.  Please, no more.  After last night's seven-way leaders' debate on ITV, I really couldn't care less if televised hustings of this nature never see the light of day again.  The debate was so stale and lacking in life I wouldn't be at all surprised if this actually dissuaded people from voting.  Even the heckler was crap.

There's been much chatter in the hours since about who 'won' this event.  The answer?  ITV.  Let's face it, when it comes to current affairs-related stuff, nobody genuinely thinks of switching their telly over to channel three to find out what's going on in the world.  Reality TV?  Yes.  Soaps?  They're good at that.  Sport?  Quiz shows?  I do like The Chase.  News and politics?  Nope.  It must have been nice then for ITV bosses to know that they had millions of Britons watching a high profile political programme on their station for the first time since... well, the 2010 leaders' debate. 
So, who came second to ITV in this race?  Here is my take on the goings on in Salford last night, all packaged up in the predictable style of a paragraph on each leader accompanied with a mark out of ten:

Ed Miliband
Solid.  No big 'zinger' moment and no knockout blow landed against Cameron, but then that sort of weapon has never really been in Ed's arsenal.  One can see why he would like to debate the PM head on - he was undoubtedly at his strongest when he was confronting Cameron.  Didn't look as confident when coming under fire from Wood and Sturgeon about Labour's track record in Wales and Scotland.  With no Cameron or Clegg in the next TV debate, Ed could end up as the target for the other four leaders.  That would be really worrying.  He can cross that bridge when he comes to it.  Overall, not a bad night's work.
Score: 7/10

David Cameron
Not good, not bad either.  Just a dull, run-of-the-mill defence of the government's performance over the past five years.  Landed a decent late blow against Miliband when he claimed that around 70 Labour MPs employ people on zero hours contracts, however he didn't have enough of those type of moments.  Even so, whilst not a victory, not a humiliating defeat either - which is probably what Downing Street were seeking all along.
Score: 6/10

Nick Clegg
Oh, Nick, you're rather quite good at this game, aren't you?  Threw us a curveball at the opening by going straight for Cameron's jugular.  He did his best to put some clear blue water between himself and DC and, to be honest, was fairly convincing at times.  Damage limitation is the name of the game for the Lib Dems in this election and Clegg certainly did his bit to help that cause.
Score: 8/10

Nigel Farage
As someone who always considered the British public as possessing the finest bullshit detectors in the world, I am baffled that so many people in UK have fallen for a fraud like Farage.  My views remain unchanged.  There was no certainly effort by Farage to tone down the content of his material, even throwing in a truly nauseating comment about foreigners with HIV using the NHS.  That type of remark will not have a major impact on support for the party, though I imagine it might turn off some of those floating voters who are thinking of switching to UKIP but are scared off by just how ugly they can be when the mask slips.  The manner in which Nigel blamed absolutely everything on either the EU or immigrants also bordered on the laughable.  Once again, I am baffled that so many have been taken in by such an unsophisticated political con man.  Not a great public speaker, I cannot envisage Farage MP being much of an addition at Westminster.  Nevertheless, he did get his (admittedly simplistic) message across.
Score: 5/10

Natalie Bennett
Natalie Bennett's performance should put an end to the old cliché about any publicity being good publicity.  While I am not the greatest fan of Caroline Lucas, she would have been more than capable of handling this sort of situation.  This was a truly ghastly performance.
Score: 4/10

Nicola Sturgeon
Just as I am perplexed at why so many people seem to have been tricked by the Nigel Farage show, I am similarly confused with Nicola Sturgeon's poll ratings in the wake of this debate. 
Score: 7/10

Leanne Wood
I'm struggling to recall the Plaid Cymru leader saying anything memorable in the course of the show.  She picks up a mark or two here for standing up to Farage on his despicable HIV remark, but aside from that she was the main challenger to Bennett in the battle to avoid the wooden spoon.
Score: 5/10

In short then: a good performance by Clegg, a terrible performances by Bennett and a whole bunch of average in between.  The good news is there's more debates on the way.  They spoil us, don't they?