Sturgeon – PR woman extraordinaire: Sturgeon worked hard to cleanse SNP’s anti-UK reputation. By explaining what SNP MPs would do in Westminster to stand up for British voters, her party didn’t come across as the Northern bogeyman that the other parties are keen to paint it as. The other candidates failed to stress that the SNP would destroy the United Kingdom and Sturgeon’s strength as a politician shone through. Labour MPs in Scotland will have felt a chill run down their spine.
No-Surprises Cameron: The Conservatives only saw risk in holding these debates; that is why they pushed for a format that would dilute the potential impact of Labour. Ignore the fact there were seven leaders on the stage, only two are in the running for Prime Minister and Cameron set out to neutralise his opponent rather than beat him, in the hope that economic good news will do the talking over the next month. Cameron’s game plan was to focus on the economy, defend his record in Europe and remind viewers of Labour’s past economic record; he did this well but as a result, he came across as dry rather than passionate.
Compassionate Miliband: Miliband landed no knock-out blows but voter surveys show that he came across as compassionate and engaged. This was a strong performance that comes on the back of several weeks of improving leadership figures. With such little time to achieve cut through with argument, he succeeded in coming across as caring and reasonable. Whilst polls show this debate wasn’t a knock-out win for Labour, it was a win for Miliband’s personal brand.
Kingmaker Clegg: The Liberal Democrat leader openly told press that he had not undertaken much preparation for the debate and it was clear why he didn’t feel he needed to. His position was sincere: “I’m sorry for my mistakes but my party has learnt a lot; we are the only party that can stop Labour from borrowing too much and the Conservatives from cutting too much”. The Liberal Democrats hold credible middle ground between the two main parties and could still play a key role in the next government, do not write them off yet.
Farage plays for the core vote: Few floating voters will be convinced that the UK’s deficit can be reduced through lowering foreign aid and cracking down on health tourism. Farage will also know that many voters will be turned off by his pledge to deny healthcare to foreigners who are diagnosed with HIV. From this, we can deduce that his rhetoric was focused on securing those who have already voiced support for UKIP. The party are gunning to win the five seats in which they are polling strongest. Clearly UKIP feel that now is the time to consolidate, rather than make new friends.
Bad night for the Greens: Across the exit polls, Natalie Bennett performed poorly. Recommending the government to encourage people to exercise more felt like a poor priority in the context of deficit reduction, immigration and the NHS. If the Green Surge is to be followed by a Green Slump, then that is good for Labour as the Greens will soak up fewer disenchanted Liberal Democrat voters who will otherwise vote for Miliband.
Plaid Cymru focuses on the Home Front: Leanne Wood focused her comments on directly addressing Welsh voters and she frequently attacked Miliband. Barely registering on exit polls, her goal was to seize the ground to the left of Labour. It’s worth remembering that Plaid Cymru is the fourth party in Wales, so any bump off the back of this debate will be welcome by the Welsh nationalists.