I watched this, and learned little. This was never going to be a platform for new policy announcements, rather a minefield for the gaffe prone. I think all seven avoided any major mistakes. It did allow us, the voters, to compare, and here are my admittedly biased impressions.
Natalie Bennett (Green) was the weakest. She clearly learned from some pretty damaging interviews, but came across as humourless and naive. I like the Greens when they talk about the environment, I dislike them when it comes to the economy, jobs and the like.
Nigel Farage (UKIP) is normally a warm and engaging performer. Somehow this format did not suit him, and my impression was that a serious debate was a step too far. His attempt to label everyone else as ‘all the same’, and to blame all of society’s ills on foreigners and the EU just showed how vacuous UKIP’s message is.
Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat) came across as a beaten man. At times there were flashes of the 2010 Clegg, but far too often you could see the impending cliff-edge for his Parliamentary party etched on his face. Now his party has been under the harsh glare of administration it is very hard to play the ‘all things to all men’ game anymore. I could not get away from the thought, every time he appeared to challenge the Prime Minister, that here was a man who had five years to do something about it. Instead, he has spent five years more or less giving Cameron whatever he wanted.
Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru) was too parochial. Despite her wonderful Welsh lilt, her message seemed to lack any real weight, and whilst she must push hard for Wales and her Welsh voters, she demonstrated why regional parties should not be admitted to national debates. Doubtless many beyond Offa’s Dyke will have found something to cheer about, the rest of the UK must have wondered what her contribution would do for them.
Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) was very good, and I am no fan of nationalism or nationalists. She somehow managed to overcome parochialism and deliver a punchy message. Her style was suited to this stage, although I still wonder why a party that only represents a fraction of the UK was admitted to this debate. I watched and wondered how Alex Salmond managed to keep her at bay for so long for clearly she is a better performer than her predecessor as leader of the SNP.
David Cameron (Conservative) was actually pretty good. This format, of seven leaders, allowed him some cover, yet when he spoke he did so with some authority. Those who have Conservative principles will have found little fault. I still found him a bit evasive, but am pleased that he managed to leave the aggressive and bullying side of him at home.
Ed Miliband (Labour) can appear awkward at times. Last night he struck me as relaxed, and he delivered his lines pretty well. He is always going to be more about the message than about how the message is given. He was confident, his body language was good, and he showed some humour. He had the strongest message. As only one of two likely Prime Ministers on display he also had weight behind his argument, and he managed to augment this with considerable gravitas.
Doubtless my views will not agree with everyone else’s. I have listed the leaders in order of who I thought was best; I call it an Ed victory, just ahead of Cameron (in terms of presentation). In terms of policy the order would be somewhat different, with Ed still winning but with a considerable margin over the others.