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ITV Party Leader Debate Night
ITV Party Leader Debate Night

Thursday 2nd April saw the ITV Leaders’ Debate live. This was a much bigger event than political debates that have been held previously- aiming to give a much larger overview of the policies of seven parties and an insight into what their leaders are like too.

The three “main parties” were of course present, Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats being represented by their leaders David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, respectively. Natalie Bennett: Green Party leader, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Nigel Farage: UKIP leader and Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood were also present at the debate- the gender divide being almost equal.

The evening was hosted by ITVs Julie Etchingham. Opening and closing statements were given by the leaders of the seven parties. They were also able to discuss four topics: the NHS, immigration, the deficit and helping the younger generation. The studio audience and ITV viewers were able to send in their questions before the debate happened- allowing an editorial panel to decide on the best, most appropriate questions for the evening.

Opening statements

Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader gave the first statement, of which discussed a “fair economy” and taking “action on climate change”. “To build a decent humane society- we start with hope”.

UKIP’s Nigel Farage: “We believe in Britain and a self- governing nation”. We “should have a trade deal with Europe…but have an Australian system”

The Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg: “The grit and resilience of balancing the books” …”I’ll act responsibly and always fairly”. “I’ll always serve the whole of our country- not just parts”

Nicola Sturgeon, leader of SNP: “SNP will always stand up for Scotland and make us heard”. “My message is one of friendship”. “A vote for the SNP isi a vote to make Scotland’s voice heard”. 

Current PM David Cameron’s statement: “The last five years, we’ve been working with the British people- there are almost 2 million more people in work. We’ve cut taxes for 30 million people”. “The choice at this election is sticking with a plan that’s working”. “Let’s not go back to square one”.

Leanne Wood: “In a Hung Parliament, Plaid Cymru can win for Wales- support Plaid Cymru: the party for Wales”.

Ed Miliband gave the final opening statement: “For five years, wages haven’t kept up with bills, the NHS has been going backwards.” “If I’m PM I’ll raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour, make zero hours contracts illegal.” “We’ll cut the deficit every year and balance the books”.

Topic one: Deficit question from a 17 year old politics student

NC: “We shouldn’t be faced with cutting too much or borrowing too much: it’s a balance. Also put money into public services- especially the NHS due to our ageing population”.

David Cameron- Conservative Party Leader
David Cameron- Conservative Party Leader

DC: “We have a plan that is working. What’s crucial is that our plan involves balance. We’ll find savings out of every £100 that the Gov spends. I don’t want to put up taxes.”

LW: Under our plans, we’ll cut the deficit from £90 billion to £30 billion by 2020. Debt has gone up under the current parliament. It’s time for the people to have a bail out.

NF: How can anyone believe these promises? (from the coalition) Remarkably no one talks about the national debt. We can save money by not paying money to Brussels every day. We need to revisit the Barnett formula. There’s a plan and a promise that could be kept.

EM: We’ll balance the books. DC promised to eliminate the deficit and failed to keep it. We’ll have commonness spending reductions.  We will keep deficit down and balance the books.

NB: We’ve been slashing away at public services. Think of workers in (ed) a children’s centre: the essential service has gone and everyone is much poorer. We do need to raise taxes on those not paying they share: multinational companies and the rich.

Nicola Sturgeon- SNP Party Leader
Nicola Sturgeon- SNP Party Leader

NS: Cutting the deficit is important- economic policy is harbouring growth. We should have modest spending increases. It will take longer to reduce the deficit.


David Cameron and Ed Milliband arguing substantially. Sturgeon comes back with quotes from Cameron- plucking stats for backup. Farage acting very authoritative and in control at this stage. Clegg considers the poor and the issues of balancing the books- shows that he has different beliefs on fairness in comparison to Labour. Farage kicks off. Cameron wants to stick to the plan that is working. “What is the truth about cuts?”- quotes Labour letter and running out of money. Production of letter backs up idea of the possibility of Labour ruining their work. Miliband wants people to know what will happen in the “FUTURE”.

*All seem full of good intentions- what is the real reality of how apprenticeships will be miraculously produced- many many people in my experience have struggled with this, especially aged 16-17?!*

Farage seemed quite angered throughout and struggled to keep calm. Wood remained calm and collected, relating all ideas simply to Wales- directly questioning Miliband who promises to make “fair choices”- and possibly avoided a question on Welsh funding…

Farage is never afraid to air his views-but we already knew that! He discussed a necessary rebalance in funding with the example of free prescriptions for Scots. Miliband full of questions for Wood- quite a personal questioning. Cameron remains calm whilst the other male leaders were getting a bit rowdy!! Bennett doesn’t get talked over and the others do seem to listen to her, especially more than they do to Sturgeon and Wood. Farage was very clear in making savings through aid and then laughs at Bennett for her “increasing foreign aid” comment. 

Topic two: NHS- How will party ensure long term funding for the NHS whilst keeping accessible to all?
Nigel Farage- UKIP Party Leader
Nigel Farage- UKIP Party Leader

NF: We want to run it efficiently, free at the point of access. Stop hospital parking charges- end tax.

NS: We oppose the privatisation in principle and because it threatens Scots budget. Let’s lift austerity- but make cuts elsewhere.

NB: The profit motive should have no place in healthcare. To deal with problem- we need to take market process out of the NHS. We want free prescriptions, plus free eyesore and free dental.

NC: NHS needs hard cash. £8 billion extra by the end of the next parliament. Why don’t you put your money where your heart is?

Ed Milliband- Labour Party Leader
Ed Milliband- Labour Party Leader

LW: NHS founded from Wales- it’s precious and should be defended against privatisation. Defend from centralisation and under labour in Wales. We want to recruit another 1000 doctors in Wales to catch up with the rest- fund through taxation.

EM: We’re gonna have a mansion tax- a clear promise from us, we’re going to get money from the tobacco companies. We’ll increase staffing and consider the ageing population

DC: Brings in “unbelievable care” received for his son [personal touch: nice]. Key to keep a strong economy in order to fund the NHS. Labour are the only party who have actually cut the NHS- think about that.

Nick Clegg- Liberal Democrat Party Leader
Nick Clegg- Liberal Democrat Party Leader

Bennett talks about immigration and asylum seekers- our NHS solidly built on foreign borne workers- Farage looks unimpressed. Miliband directly addressed Farage and Cameron- used NHS waiting times to show that the coalition haven’t been “protecting” the NHS.

Debate here seems calmer initially- people not consistently talking over each other. Clegg- keen on treating mental health with the same care as physical health. Yes Clegg! Sturgeon made funny remark against Farage being able to blame anything on immigrants. Wood: “political football” (what does that even mean?!)- I cannot imagine she’ll have many fans in the rest of the UK- although her comments against Labour seem fair and also corroborate Cameron’s about Labour’s privatisation of the NHS. Cameron uses dementia as an example- clearly targeting many voters who are affected directly or indirectly by this disease. Bennett uses figures far too much- boring and throughly loves her GDP one: BUT people do listen- she loves the idea of a “healthier society” encouraging “walking”- fun. Clegg defends the 2% rise in privatisation of NHS.

Farage: “got to stop money being wasted!”-uses HIV and how much the drugs for this cost. “NHS should only be for British nationals”. Wood “[Farage] you should be ashamed of yourself *claps from the audience following Farage’s controversial HIV topic- I feel I would also have clapped*.

Clegg and Cameron remaining calm and use specific examples to show what they have changed. Their “inheritance” was used consistently as back up but ultimately they are the most professional at this stage- other leaders appear to be much more argumentative and defensive of their ideas. Cameron directly looks down the camera- purposeful personal and professional behaviour towards audience at home. Miliband uses same tactic but is constantly putting Conservatives down which for me had a lesser impact.

This section drags on a LOT- but hey, who guessed we had an ageing population?! 

Topic three: If elected: how would you approach the issue of immigration?
Leanne Wood- Plaid Cymru Party Leader
Leanne Wood- Plaid Cymru Party Leader

EM: People’s concerns on immigration are real. Immigrants won’t get benefits for two years- exploitation and undercutting of wages will be dealt with. I offer a party with controls on immigration.

LW: It wasn’t immigrants who caused the economic crisis. The debate around immigration has stopped gaps such as the Welsh NHS being filled. This immigration debate has exacerbated the problem.

NS: Investing more in homes and enforcing a decent min wage- not scapegoating. The majority of migrants work, the majority who don’t are students. How would we feel if British emigrants were spoken about the way we talk of immigrants here.

DC: We do need immigration that is controlled and fair. We have put a cap on out of EU immigration as well as creating more jobs. (Four ideas) Fair changes- that I can deliver.

NF: What can we do to control immigration: NOTHING! I don’t blame a single migrant coming from Eastern Europe one bit. We need to change our relationship with Europe and make it one of trade and friendship.

NC: There’s good immigration and bad immigration. I’ve increased checks on borders. I’ve increased the penalty on exploitation. If we turned everybody away- the NHS would collapse overnight. We should be open to business but not open to abuse.

NB: NON-EU immigration- we need a fair and controlled system. The issues raised about “immigration” are not caused by immigrants, but by failure of government policies.

Natalie Bennett- Green Party Leader
Natalie Bennett- Green Party Leader

Farage says Merkel is real boss in Europe putting Cameron down- who talks of experience in Europe and the way he has backed up UK in the EU and negotiations. Miliband acted feisty and against Cameron- let’s change Europe so it works better for us. Clegg really wants to work to push UK youngsters to get the jobs that they want: training! Makes a strong point on this and backs up with ideas of what has been done in the last five years. Again Bennett holds a strong argument and always backs up with figures- believes in “taking fair share of Syrian refugees”. Farage does not dispute this and speaks history.

Clegg gets round of applause for comment on Farages’ foreign wife- great point considering most of Farage’s ideas. Clegg and Farage argue this one- Miliband takes over and as always attacks Clegg and Cameron- no surprise there. Miliband uses sympathy tactics about “those who can’t afford to eat” and looks at zero hours contracts- this really is one of his big points… 

ROWDY times! Julie Etchingham struggles to control them whilst the audience at home simply hear what on earth is going on. 

Farage was naturally and expectantly vocal in this part of the debate- but Clegg also piped up and voiced his ideas. Bennett was directly addressing and speaking to the studio audience, making no personal eye contact with the camera- a different and less personal tactic than most of the other leaders. It seems (sorry for the sweeping comment) that the female leaders made more of a connection with the studio audience and the leaders that most of the other male leaders did. It is apparent that the likes of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have had more press coverage and are more used to being in the public eye- directly connecting themselves with members of the audience at home- ultimately where the majority of the voters are.

Topic four: what will you do to help the younger generations? (Financially?)

LW: The generation of today is going to be worse off. We want to provide free tuition fees- but we’re not in a position to do that. We want to keep the subsidies for Welsh students.

EM: We’ve got to guarantee a good access to education. We’ll cut the tuition fees to £6k. I believe in the promise of Britain where the next generation does better than the last.

DC: make sure that there are good jobs for people to do. Apprenticeships and universities are vital. We want a choice of either and uncapped uni places. We want to help more people onto the housing ladder.

NB: The system of paying the uni fees is not currently working. We not only want zero university fees, but also to pay off student loans companies.

NC: My policies couldn’t be put into play- for reasons because of Labour. More young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to uni. I want to create a fairer society.

NS: I have no right to take away that free eduction entitlement away from the next generation. It is wrong for any MP to do that. Education should be based on your ability to learn and never to pay.

NF: The social inequality is growing. Abolishing Grammar schools has done a bad job. Optimism on housing: let’s cut immigration- we currently have to build a new house every 7 minutes.


Cameron accused Clegg of a “pick and mix” approach- Cameron defending all of the decisions that were made in the coalition. (Rightfully so).  

*Clegg was applauded for comments to Miliband about financial crash- complete blame on Labour.*

Audience loved this. Miliband truly argumentative throughout. Bennett brings the debate back to education following the somewhat heated debate- nice comment about “Exam- factories” and bringing in more broad education with skills for life. Does Wood have any prospects outside of Wales? No. Sturgeon- attacked Labour and their introduction of tuition fees- Miliband looks unimpressed with comments. Bizarre “rent to own” programme put forward by Clegg- odd, not sure how he plans to implement that one… Housing debate is less heated and somewhat boring in fact. Julie Etchingham’s input helps the structure of the debate here specifically, simply switching to different parts of the question- Pensions tackled by leaders. Audience member stands to question David Cameron about homeless service people being on the streets- her point is loud and dismissed by Etchingham and she shouldn’t have spoken out *heckler* – we can ponder whether she was asked to leave after this…but shouts could be heard throughout what could have been the most boring part of the debate. Glad that she heated it up a tad- it was getting a bit tedious. Everyone was notably tired by this point and could probably have done with a seat and glass of water. Miliband far too obsessed with zero hours contracts- anyone would think this was his most important policy… Cameron came back with sarcastic comment about Labour failing to practice what they preach in terms of employing Labour MPs on zero hours contracts. 

Closing statements

NS: Vote for something different, better and more progressive. None of us can afford more austerity…

NC: Make sure you do what’s right for your country. Make sure we don’t borrow too much on the one hand or cut too much on the other. Finishing the job, finishing it fairly, balancing the books….opportunity for everyone.

EM: I’ll make sure we reward the hard work of everyone in the country- not just those on 6 figure salaries. Let’s bring the change that Britain needs.

LW: For Wales to be strong, like Scotland, Plaid Cymru need to be strong…

NB: Vote for change- vote Green. With a strong group of Green MPs …we can deliver a peaceful, political revolution…

NF: To change properly- you need to put more UKIP MPs in Westminster.

DC: Having been your PM for the last 5 years, we’ve turned our economy around, cleaning up the mess that was left to us. I want us to finish the job that we’ve started. Let’s clear the deficit. Let’s stick to the plan that’s working.

Overall comment:

Farage was consistently amusing; as expected he made a big impact during the debate with his controversial ideas and comments about the other leaders being “all the same”. Cameron remained professional throughout- his last five years in power being ever eminent and obvious to the audience: his vibe is much more level- headed and experienced than that of Sturgeon’s or Wood’s for instance- as leaders mainly working for their country alone, and not the UK as a whole. Clegg’s experience as deputy leader for the last five years came through clearly, and stood him in good stead alongside Cameron, although sometimes disagreements were clear. Miliband’s personal “If I’m your PM” sentences were somewhat irritating, but his inclusive language was ever- present and helps to connect with viewers. His hand shaking with audience members at the end was a clear aim to connect with them on a more personal level and show his good manners (which would contrast with those of Gordon Brown several years ago and his “bigot” comment for instance). Cameron’s personal touch came through his thanks to the audience members for their questions- the only leader who actually did this. Bennett was rarely spoken over, but was not someone who I could engage with fully. Ultimately, Cameron and Farage stole the limelight through a combination of heated debate and clear comments. 

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