I spent much of yesterday evening at ITV-Wales HQ: watching their Welsh Leaders’ Debate and then contributing to the Rate the Debate Sharp End special afterwards. Here are a few thoughts about the night…
Clear Winner: Star of the night, undoubtedly, was Adrian Masters. He had a very difficult job – steering a two-hour debate between six politicians. And he did very well. The debate never became a shouting match, and he was scrupulously fair in ensuring that the participants got an equal chance to contribute. (This contrasted with the first GB-wide debate, where the leaders of the three traditional UK parties seemed to get substantially longer speaking time than the others during the debate sections). Adrian also managed it with his customary good humour and lightness of touch.
Other Honourable Mentions: Praise also to Andrea Byrne, and my fellow panellist Valerie Livingston, Bela Arora, and Gareth Hughes, for their contributions. We watched the debate together, before doing the reaction show together. It was great fun to watch and discuss the debate with such interesting people. Diolch, pawb.
Big Losers: The one part of the ITV show I really didn’t like was the reaction in the ‘café’ afterwards from the various first-time and undecided voters – most of whom seemed to do little but complain. Frankly, I think some of them would have declared themselves unimpressed if the politicians had delivered their answers in five languages from atop unicycles while simultaneously juggling flaming torches…
Personally, I thought all the politicians performed quite capably, though none were flawless. My – purely subjective and non-scientific – thoughts on the individual performances:
Leanne Wood: The most recently-practised at live television debating, and I thought it showed. Didn’t get everything right, but looked the most comfortable in the environment and seemed (from watching it on television; it may have been different in the auditorium) to get much of the best audience reaction. Possibly also had the best line of the night – her ‘not children’ response to Nathan Gill. I’m not sure how useful it is to try to pick a single winner in a multi-person debate; but, as I said on ITV last night, if I had to pick one winner it was probably her.
Kirsty Williams: Kirsty has, deservedly, built a high reputation as a determined and fluent advocate for her party’s cause. Against those expectations, I thought her start was very disappointing – her opening statement was one of the least impressive. But as the debate moved onto the NHS, ground that she knows well, she improved markedly. She also had some very strong lines in the immigration section. Overall, confirmed what we already knew – a class act, and tough with it.
Stephen Crabb: I think the Conservatives were very fortunate in being represented by him last night, and not his predecessor as Welsh Secretary. He had perhaps the most obviously uncomfortable moment of the night, when hesitating in response to Nathan Gill’s challenge on immigration. But other than that, I thought he performed very capably, defending the Conservatives’ case in his normal calm and emollient manner.
Owen Smith: There was some negative reaction to his performance on-line afterwards (and see also comments below on the Twitter ratings). In the main I thought this was unfair. Like Stephen Crabb, Owen’s approach to debating has a bit more of the House of Commons style to it, and perhaps that doesn’t go down well with everyone. But in the main I thought he advanced Labour’s case fluently and well, coming over as very well-informed. Possibly the one mistake he and Stephen Crabb in particular made in the NHS section was to bandy around spending figures that were not very clearly explained; I suspect much of that would have gone completely over the heads of most viewers. But overall a much better performance, I think, than some gave him credit for.
Nathan Gill: The relative lack of experience of both Nathan Gill and Pippa Bartolotti did come through at various points: his comparison of the Assembly to children wasn’t the best idea. But overall I thought he performed well. Unsurprisingly he sounded most comfortable when discussing UKIP’s ‘home turf’ of immigration and Europe. But he was more conciliatory in both tone and content on these subjects than Nigel Farage was in the GB-wide debates. To both UKIP’s core vote and those considering voting for the party I think this would have come over as a very capable performance.
Pippa Bartolotti: The only non-professional politician in the debate, and at times it showed: she often ran over time with her answers, and seemed to make the mistake of speaking too much to the couple of hundred people inside the hall rather than the tens of thousands watching outside it. But for those who might consider voting Green, I suspect the absence of the smoothness of a professional politician is no great handicap. And she did speak with great passion on many issues. A better performance than her detractors would have expected, or probably given her credit for.
Well that’s what I thought. Is there any more objective evidence? Sadly there were no reaction polls. But the ITV-Wales show did feature an analysis of Twitter reaction (see here: http://www.itv.com/news/wales/2015-04-22/watch-the-itv-wales-election-debate-online/) conducted by Blurrt. Based on both the quantity and sentiments within tweets, this apparently ranked the leaders in the following order (from highest to lowest):
- Leanne Wood
- Kirsty Williams
- Pippa Bartolotti
- Nathan Gill
- Stephen Crabb
- Owen Smith
However (and without in any way questioning the integrity or professionalism of those conducting this analysis) I would suggest that we interpret these results with some caution. The use of social media sentiment to measure public attitudes is a very exciting area of social research, but it does not yet have the well-established grounding of opinion polls. We know that Twitter users are not typical of the whole population, and Twitter sentiment can be an inaccurate measure of opinions across society: for instance, Twitter sentiment measures last September apparently suggested that the Yes campaign would win the Scottish referendum. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is wrong this time – just that, as I say, we should interpret these results with caution.