Debate shows British election too close to call

In a general election predicted to throw up yet another coalition government in the United Kingdom, the two-hour, seven-way debate format agreed upon by the leaders of the seven major and minor parties was the only way to give equal representation to the multiplicity of contesting parties.

Watched by seven million people, the much-anticipated debate held at the ITV studios in Manchester on Thursday was a runaway success. If the election pitch of the three major contenders – prime ministerial candidates David Cameron from the Conservative Party, Ed Miliband from Labour and Nick Clegg from the Liberal Democrats – was what the audience expected to hear, the views of the smaller and lesser known parties was what they wanted to hear.

And they were not disappointed as the women leaders of the three parties – Niccola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Natalie Bennett from the Green Party and Leanne Woods from the Welsh Plaid Cymru – presented their party policies and arguments with skill, confidence and conviction.

Nigel Farage of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), the master of the one-to-one debate, was out of his depth in a strictly moderated group parley. Though he tried to position himself as the outsider in the political line-up on stage, he lost the momentum early and at one point was upbraided sharply by Leanne Woods of Plaid Cymru for his prejudiced comments. (Mr. Farage claimed that 60 per cent of the people who had tested positive for HIV in the country were foreign born).

Through all the thrust and parry of Thursday’s debate, the ideological divide was clear. The bloc of small parties represented by the SNP, Green Party and Plaid Cymru challenged the establishment consensus represented by the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and UKIP on all every major election issue – budgetary cuts on welfare, the crisis facing the National Health Service, the immigrant debate, and higher education and building a future for the youth.

Natalie Bennett remarked that the only difference in economic policy between the major parties was between an “austerity-light” and “austerity-heavy” approach.

In response to a question on who won the contest, a Guardian/ICM poll showed that 25 per cent of respondents voted for Mr. Miliband, 24 per cent for Mr. Cameron, 19 per cent for Mr. Farage and 17 per cent for Ms. Sturgeon.

A YouGov poll on the other hand showed Ms. Sturgeon on top with 28 per cent, followed by Mr. Farage with 20 per cent, Mr. Cameron at 18 per cent and Mr. Miliband at 15 percent. A consolidated reading of the five polls shows a neck-and-neck race with Mr. Cameron and Mr. Miliband tied at 22 per cent each, Mr. Farage at 21 per cent and Ms Sturgeon at 10. Nick Clegg has nine per cent, Natalie Bennett four percent and Leanne Wood three per cent. The Conservative and Labour parties may have the most at stake, but the smaller parties will be the game-changers.

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2021 7:04:34 PM |

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