Episode Four: 0-0-0-0-0-0-0

John Lanchester

Front page of the Guardian: ‘Labour buoyed as Miliband edges Cameron in snap poll.’ Front page of the Telegraph: ‘Miliband flops as outsiders shine.’ The Mail: ‘Runaway jihadi’s father is Labour activist.’ The Sun, over photo of Miliband: ‘Oops! I just lost my election.’

ICM scored it as a narrow win for Miliband, YouGov for Sturgeon, Comres as a three-way tie between Cameron, Miliband and Farage, and Survation the same except with Farage a point behind. In other words, it was a draw. The main outcome, probably, is that nobody had a disaster; it’s not so much about winning as about not losing, and on this occasion there was no obvious loser.

Cameron engaged enough to not seem uninterested, then withdrew enough to look prime ministerial; Miliband was cogent and competent and got in a couple of zingers without seeming to have been up all night practising them. Sturgeon did well enough to make lots of people wonder why she was on the show in the first place, since the overwhelming majority of the UK’s population can’t vote for her party, any more than they can for Plaid Cymru (who were present) or the DUP or UUP or SDLP or Sinn Féin (all absent). I’m not saying that the debate would have benefited from more participants, but the criteria for inclusion looked odd.

The losers were the viewers. There was a draining quality to the whole thing. It was hard to get through, like an old-fashioned British Sunday. About halfway in, I found myself deeply and sincerely wanting it to be over. It’s the element of pure performance that was probably responsible. The event felt much less real than it should have. In that sense, the Tories got what they wanted. On the theory that the incumbent can’t win and therefore has nothing to gain from a debate, the best outcome is to set up a structure where there is no real clarity, so nobody wins. Nobody won. So Cameron won.


  • 4 April 2015 at 8:25am
    Geoff Roberts says:
    And I missed this? What was I thinking of? It looks as if the whole thing was set up to bore the viewers into a stupor in which they only hear when their favoured candidate makes a point (good or bad, doesn't matter.) "The event felt much less real than it should have." Are you talking about 'real' in the sense of reality, as in 'reality shows'? Did they have referees (in theme shirts) with stop watches on each candidate's air time, blowing a whistle (no, it would be a buzzer, wouldn't it?) when time was up? Were there songs by Robbie Williams between the speeches? Did anybody actually talk about relevant political issues? Who was responsible for this schlamazzle? What does 'So Cameron won' mean in the context of meta-communication? Will this affect the outcome of the election? I can hardly wait.