Leaders: PM was real winner of leaders’ debate

IN THE aftermath of the general election leaders’ debate, one thing is clear: the two-hour ITV special, with seven parties represented, has been a gift for the Tories.
The party leaders with host Julie Etchingham. Picture: PAThe party leaders with host Julie Etchingham. Picture: PA
The party leaders with host Julie Etchingham. Picture: PA

The SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon has been identified as the star of the show, and lauded across the UK. Rightly so, for her performance was assured and effective.

But in truth, a contest of this kind was always going to favour what some London commentators are calling “the insurgent parties”.

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This was precisely why, after grave misgivings initially, David Cameron agreed to take part. He knew the voice of his main rival, Ed Miliband, was likely to get lost or at best obscured within the chorus of centre-left complaints about the events of the past five years.

That is precisely what happened. There was no convincing rallying cry from the Labour leader, and he did little to advance his party’s cause.

But the eclipsing of Mr Miliband was not the main advantage handed to the Conservative party on Thursday night. Far more important, in the scheme of things, was the opportunity the debate handed the SNP and – to a lesser extent – Ukip to stake their claims on Labour territory.

The Tories are delighted that the strong impression left by the debate is that an SNP alliance with Labour – either formal or informal – would have the effect of edging a government led by Mr Miliband to the left.

This is a double win for the Conservatives. In England, it makes centre-ground voters less likely to throw in their lot with Labour. And in Scotland it makes left-leaning voters more likely to side with the SNP, with the aim of – in Ms Sturgeon’s words – “keeping Labour honest”.

This in turn will increase the chances of more SNP MPs and consequently fewer Scottish Labour MPs, which suits the Tories absolutely fine.

This was why yesterday saw senior Conservatives such as Michael Gove and Michael Fallon talking up Ms Sturgeon’s influence on the debate and the general election as a whole.

The Ukip calculation is a little less clear-cut, but there is no doubt Nigel Farage’s pitch to the voters on Thursday night was carefully calibrated to appeal as much to disaffected Labour voters as disaffected Tories.

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The signifiers of Ukip support – a general distaste for metropolitan liberalism, Europe, multiculturalism and modernity in general – are by no means limited to the right wing of the political spectrum. But until this week Mr Farage’s efforts were aimed pretty squarely at the traditional Tory grassroots.

It would not take much of a Ukip inroad into Labour support to provide a significant boost for David Cameron’s chances of staying in Number 10.

The economy is continuing to play well for the Tories. If the SNP and Ukip can denude Labour some more, Mr Cameron may be looking at a victory.

You’ve got to roll with it

The great thing about holidays such as Easter is the scope they provide for honouring old family customs. Even if they tend to be the customs seldom portrayed on greetings cards.

Instead of rolling the Easter eggs, there is the time-honoured rolling of the eyes as the kids in the back seat ask “are we there yet?”, usually before the car is out of the street and on to the main road, en route for a family gathering a couple of hours away.

Then there is the traditional Easter food. Not a delicious roast leg of lamb with garlic, rosemary and mint sauce, accompanied by parmentier potatoes and spring greens. No, that will have to wait until another year, again.

The traditional food of choice is two large chocolate Easter eggs, plus their chocolatey contents, all consumed in the back of said car within the space of about half an hour. Inevitably, this makes for a degree of queasiness among the junior passengers.

Dessert, which is compulsory, is a Cadbury’s Creme Egg. These are not what they used to be, but then again, what is?

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But the best tradition is yet to come. Train operators have advised against rail travel, so busy is the network over this weekend.

So inevitably the roads are rammed. An hour later and you have barely made it to the edge of town. You have yet to travel faster them 20mph. And you are, by now, very familiar with the hilarious bumper stickers on the car in front.

If you are lucky, it will be traditional Easter bank holiday weather, ensuring the temperature in a car full of queasy children does not rise higher than is bearable.

All in all, a family occasion to warm the cockles of the hardest heart. Happy Easter.