27 Mar 2015

Cameron drops his Flashman style, Miliband comes out fighting

The headline conclusion from the C4/Sky TV election special (it wasn’t a debate) is that voters aren’t so easily swung by an 18-minute TV interview. Most political watchers agree : Ed Miliband handled Paxman better than David Cameron, and neither leader had any trouble with Kay Burley’s audience.

So why did David Cameron come out on top in both the ICM and YouGov instant polling? Because that’s where he was before the debate, and it takes more than a few clever lines to change people’s minds.

Paxman’s approach to both interviews was to go for the quick knockout. He didn’t have time, tragically, for a long and forensic battle. David Cameron’s approach to Paxman was probably a mistake. Instead of the uber-confident Flashman style he adopts in PMQs, he’d decided to avoid accusations of arrogance. Instead he looked a bit rattled, perhaps even scared.

Paxman’s questions didn’t reveal anything new about policy or intentions but they showed us what Cameron looks like when he’s a bit intimidated.

Ed Miliband, by contrast, came out fighting – perhaps too much at times. The risk is always looking a bit shrill or aggressive, especially for older and women voters who find it a turn-off. But his digs at whether Paxman had been talking to David Cameron on the tube, and that he was “important but not that important”, were surprising and confident.

Miliband was also helped by the fact Paxman had less to throw at him than he had against Cameron. While the opening attack on Cameron about poverty and looking out of touch drew a little blood, Miliband managed to throw his interrogator with his predictable admission of failure on immigration.

All of this means David Cameron’s team were quite right to do what they could to minimise the debates. As prime minister he risks losing authority while Ed Miliband can only gain. The big question for Labour is: can they do enough in these TV appearances to make a difference? There is little reason to think so looking back at 2010, but every election is different. That also assumes he doesn’t falter in the ITV debate or other interviews along the campaign. And that’s a big assumption.

I suspect Cameron will adopt a quite different approach in the ITV debate as he will be facing what will almost certainly be an aggressive and confident Nigel Farage swinging wildly at him. Farage will probably target Cameron more than Miliband, and the prime minister will have to show authority and intelligence but also a bit of swagger to defeat it.

Ed Miliband, by contrast, might struggle to make as much of an impact. The danger for him comes from the SNP, who know he is the first Labour leader in a long time looking to be less popular in Scotland than his Tory counterpart.

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9 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    Why should anybody have any trouble with Kay Burley?…….I’ve seen more intelligent and aggressive hamsters than her.

    As for Paxman………the shouty old tory crackpot should have been sent to the knackers yard at least a decade ago.

    The whole thing was a load of artificial nonsense.

  2. alfie says:

    Where were the Paxman personal attacks on Cameron that Milliband was subjected to? Kay Burley who has well documented right wing leanings should never have been allowed to heckle the Labour leader after previously pandering to Cameron. Disgracefully biased coverage

  3. Janet Guerin says:

    I felt that it was lazy of Paxman to fall back on the fratricidal geek line with Milliband. Not relevant to the policies of the party in the least. The audience questions were pretty lame too and the whole thing was too short. Overall I learnt next to nothing and Cameron in particular trotted out the well-worn statements I have heard umpteen times before. Milliband came out better in terms of resilience and humour than many might have expected but neither were really pushed that hard on policies. Let’s have more Yes/No questions with the interviewer not letting go until they get a yes or no. From memory I think Cameron sidled out of one of these without being pulled back by Paxman

  4. norman mathews says:

    Any pollster who rated Cameron above Milliband after those two biased interviews needs their head examined. Miliband was smarter, more intelligent, more spontaneous, more courageous, more humorous more of a Prime Minister, not merely an Eton product to prop up the upper classes.

    norm mathews

  5. Philip says:

    I found it interesting that the media focused on the 54:46 poll rather than the YouGov 51:49. Why was that, I wonder?
    In any event, I reckon from where he started Milliband would be pleased with 46%.
    I can’t say he’s my ideal as PM (far from it), but given the other options, he’s streets ahead. (Though the Greens have many better policies, we need to keep a Tory/UKIP government out).
    I doubt the debates will make up many people’s minds, but they’re better than the highly-managed photo-ops & prepared scenarios which make up the rest of the election.

  6. john sear says:

    I have always been a Conservative supporter but I thought Ed Miliband made mincemeat of Paxman especially in the final few exchanges when Paxman’s arrogance was reduced
    to ‘I don’t think I’m winning anymore’. I was slightly disappointed with David Cameron who seemed to be nervous and lack the human touch that Miliband showed giving me the impression he didn’t believe he could win a second term.

    I am still in the Conservative camp but I am still to be reassured on their policy on the NHS despite David Cameron’s speech today about more hospital services by 2020. The £13 billion funding short fall really does worry me.

  7. Andrew Dundas says:

    Scotland is the political battlefield: if the SNP win 30+ seats, only the Tories will be able to offer nice Ministerial seats and salaries to the minority parties. Other UK voters will be bystanders in that contest.

    All around the globe and here, the critical issue is the widening inequalities caused by wonky government policies that are bought by billionaires. Your report confirms that our UK election decisions will be determined personalities not public policies. Pity, really.

  8. james dawkins says:

    I really don’t see the point of the showdowns, we have had 5 years of the coalition,, and people should make their minds up who they will be voting for on the records of the last 5 years ,and where they think we are heading to in the next 5 years,dont follow a party ,if they are doing right for you ,whichever party it is,then let them carry on or vote for a change if your not happy.
    politics is a dirty game i watch it every day with great interest,and there lies the problem!!!! most people don’t and whats more they don’t care,

    I know where I live in Bulwell,Nottingham many unemployed people go shopping in taxis send for a Chinese meal and don’t really have any problems so why should they bother who rules ???

  9. Woodrow Landfair says:

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