2017 General Election Diary Day 42: There are no answers here

The more I think about it, the more I’m jealous of them back in 1974. Not for the fashions, the power cuts, the endemic racism and sexism and the three day week, but for the fact they got the general election campaign over and done with in three weeks from it being called. We could have done it twice over in that time, and yet here we are with still more than another week to go.

For those of us who’ve been obsessing over it, the election has been on for ages, but for a lot of people it’s only just begun as it’s not until now that people start paying real attention to what’s going on. Part of that’s because we’re now getting a couple of the big events of the campaign: Channel 4’s ‘get shouted at by Jeremy Paxman’ special last night and the BBC’s some-but-not-all of the leaders’ debate tomorrow (different from ITV’s leaders debate in that those who choose not to turn up get to send a substitute rather than just being ignored).

Last night was billed as May vs Corbyn, though it was a bizarre contest in that it appeared to have been stage managed to ensure that they never actually met so it was more a case of trying to settle a havyweight championship fight by observing the two fighters shadow boxing in separate rings. Both rings featured a sneering and hectoring Jeremy Paxman for them to shape up against but only for twenty minutes, half of which were taking up with him repeatedly barking the same question after he initially asked it. As is so often the case, it was the sort of interview that was more concerned with delivering a gotcha moment for the headlines to bother with probing and exposing its subject. It feels to me that its time for interviewing to take a step back from this model and try something different, because at the moment its playing into the politicians’ game of looking for that big moment and trying to force it into being rather than waiting and letting the story develop.

The problem with these short formats is that it only means that politicians have to survive a short encounter, and as long as they do that without swallowing their own tongue or inadvertently shouting ‘Hail Hydra!’ in the middle of it, they’ll be dubbed to have at least met expectations, and nothing much will change.

So, let’s instead look at our Election Leaflet Of The Day, which this time is a dispatch from the Highlands where the Something New party are standing one of their two candidates (the other is right at the other end of the UK in Horsham). The ‘something new’ in this case appears to be the internet which will apparently ‘connect us all’ and allow them to deliver their manifesto promises of nice things for everyone. They’re also offering ‘representation, not party politics’ which despite being delivered by an organised group campaigning on a manifesto in an election isn’t causing the whole thing to collapse in on itself in the usual paradox of party politicians declaring that what they’re doing isn’t somehow party politics. They don’t quite utter the dread words of ‘let’s all agree with me take the politics out of this’ but it’s close enough.

Nine days to go…that’s single figures and counting.

Battle for Number 10: Morning after thoughts

To the real victor, the front page spoils.
To the real victor, the front page spoils.
In no particular order:

The real winners last night were Jeremy Paxman and Channel 4. Given the chance to do what he does best and forensically interview leading politicians, Paxman was at his best. Both times, it felt a shame that the interview had to come to an end when it did: Cameron’s because he was on the defensive and clearly wanted it over, Miliband’s because he’d come to life and was clearly ready for more.

Kay Burley was as terrible as you’d expect. Fawning over Cameron, then continually interjecting and interrupting when Miliband was on, she was poor as a moderator, and helped the sections with the audience feel very much like filler sections in between the two Paxman interviews.

No one won, but Miliband didn’t need to. The Tory message has been that Ed Miliband is barely capable of tying his own shoelaces while David Cameron is the strong and capable leader capable of negotiating our relationship with the EU. Neither of those look like good arguments after last night, and the danger of setting such low expectations for Miliband is that it’s very easy for him to overcome them.

‘Cameron scared of debates’ is still a story. One of the messages being repeated in a lot of the morning reporting is people asking why they couldn’t have a head to head debate, or wouldn’t it be good to see them having a head to head debate. Agreeing to some debates means people are still asking why he didn’t agree to the full set of them.

We need more in depth interviews in the campaign. The Paxman sections were the most interesting part of last night, and needed to be longer, and some of the more interesting political moments of the last few years have come in proper interviews – James O’Brien and Nigel Farage, Eddie Mair and Boris Johnson, for instance – and the campaign would benefit from a lot more of these and a lot less photo ops and press conferences. A tough, forensic interview of a senior politician, going on for half an hour or more, is a pretty rare event nowadays, and last night showed it could be much more effective than another Q&A with an audience.

Will the story of the election now be Cameron vs Miliband? Last night framed the election as two-way fight between them, and the post-debate coverage is barely mentioning the other parties. Will this framing persist and keep portraying the election as between the two big parties – and will this effect the polls? – or will the start of the campaign and next week’s seven-way debate open it all up again?