Tag Archives: The TV debate

The TV debate. (7) Beware vampires!

As the debates draw near, all three of the so-called secret weapons are mounting a full frontal attack. The front cover of Private Eye, in a nice parody of Reader’s Wives, shows all three strutting their stuff, Saucy Sarah, Sexy Sam and The Other One.


Each has raised their game this week. A two pager in ES  magazine eulogising Sarah Brown describes her as ‘ the most formidable Prime Minister’s wife in living memory’. Not to be outdone ‘vampish GlamCam’ sprawls seductively across pages of the MoS, Mail and  Telegraph in a twelve year old fashion shoot conveniently ‘discovered’ in an attic.

Even the stylish Myriam Gonzalez, who backs her husband Clegg in a ‘middling sort of way’, has succumbed to appearing on television where she warns of the danger of a candidate’s wife putting together “a sugar-coated image of yourself , in the hope that it brings you votes.”

She makes a good point. But for the candidates there is a bigger danger. They are all making one of the commonest mistakes made in any presentation where the stakes are high. It’s the one where props created to aid communication become crutches that distract.  Often dubbed “vampire visuals”. 


Right now vampires in books, movies and television programmes are enjoying popularity our candidates can only dream of. The same goes for these political vampires.


And we know what vampires do to their mates………




The TV debate.(5) Where looks can kill.


We now know that the  debates will take place in three English cities, upsetting the Welsh and Scots, and that they will be termed “Prime Ministerial”, pleasing Nick Clegg. We also know that some 76 protocols are in place to ensure no-one gets an unfair advantage.

As Dominic Lawson put it, “the effect is to ensure that the entire affair will be characterised by a depressing combination of rigidity and superficiality”. The approach is lifted from America where even Obama in his clash with McCain was “rendered soporifically dull by the rigid entirely unspontaneous format.”

What will this mean for our three contestants? Well rehearsed and prepared, as they each will be, to deliver their prepared statements, debate  for a minute or so, and reply to planted questions, the chances of any competitive advantage from what they say, the policy content, are zero.

So, we will be left with judgement based almost entirely on looks. “Do we like this person?”

 All the non-verbal clues will be in play. Tone of voice, gestures, facial expression, genuine warmth, natural smile, ease of body language, eye contact, all the normal signals of a confident personality but all under threat from the  television camera.


David Cameron has the toughest job. Once  the ‘charismatic telegenic’ performer his aura is diminished along with the Incredible Shrinking Man (Gerald Scarfe cartoon) polling figures.  As the still just-favourite he has most to lose and the temptation will be to try too hard. He needs the confidence to relax and take cues from Bill Clinton at his charming best.

As the least exposed and with no real form, Nick Clegg should go in with confidence high, certain that his freshness will give him an edge. We have little idea of what he stands for so anything he says will seem original. He can, and should come across as the one enjoying himself, so we might enjoy him.

Gordon Brown as ever is unpredictable. Recently his public preparation is the best. The Piers Morgan show and then 4 hours of Iraq enquiry will have fuelled confidence in his newly found ‘nice Gordon’ persona. If he can combine the nice with the formidable authority, lacking in both his fresh-faced, ‘inexperienced’ opponents,  the debates will favour him.

 However, for all the protocols and the preparation it would be unfortunate, as Lawson said,” if a close British general election were to be decided by a single cleverly worded put down or an unfortunate behavioral twitch on camera.”  But it could be.

The TV debate. (3) How to get emotional

Over this past week many tears have been publicly shed. All, no doubt, reflected genuine private grief. But all with political gain in mind.


 The belligerent Alastair Campbell shed his over harsh words aimed at  Tony Blair, hoping one assumes to dilute criticism at the Iraq enquiry. Jacques Rogge’s tears at the opening ceremony were followed by assigning all blame to the athlete who died and none to the Canadian organisers (who later did make the run safer).

Then, we had an interview with David Cameron getting his tears out just ahead of the week’s  main cri de coeur with Gordon Brown talking to Piers Morgan. Genuine expressions of emotion, but in response to questions publicly orchestrated.

As the live TV debate looms, both appreciate that it is not their policies which will determine the viewers’ response. It is their personalities, or rather their public personae that will strike an emotional chord, or not.


Of the three  contestants Nick Clegg has more natural empathy and nothing to lose so will probably perform best.  Cameron is the polished communicator but  has never reached the heights of his leadership winning speech in Backpool. He needs to offset his ‘slick salesmen’ image (56% agree) with  real warmth.

Brown until now has not attempted to let his more human side interfere with getting his convictions across. In the three way debate, with the benefit of the warm-up with Piers, it will be interesting to see  if he lets his emotions show.

If any of them sheds a tear then, as a woman interviewee on the One Show said about men who cry, “…. sweet, it brings out the mothering instincts!”