The Corner

Debate Night in Britain

Over on Tweet Tracker, Larry Sabato says he’s “very excited about today’s first-ever televised British prime ministerial debate” between Gordon Brown, the Labour prime minister, David Cameron, the Tory leader, and Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats. Most political junkies, I assume, would agree. Regardless of whether it’s interesting — The Economist calls the format “dull and deferential” — it’ll be notable political theater. Polly Toynbee at the Guardian explains:

Watching tonight will have all the ghoulish excitement of Roman games in the Coliseum. The only pleasure in a full hour and a half of stiffly regulated debate will be hoping for the car-crash moment, hunting for gaffes, jokes falling flat, sweaty brows, fluffed lines – anything, please, to break the torpor. The Grand National is only popular because there’s always the hope the favourites will crash out at Becher’s Brook. Where would Le Mans be without a smash or two?

Folklore says the underdog has the best chance of improving in such contests. Hmmm. Several bookies say they haven’t taken a single bet on Gordon Brown coming out on top. Labour is doing unexpectedly better in this election because they are concentrating on the policy differences – and it’s working quite well. People do doubt whose side the same old Tories are on. “We’re all in this together” only reminds us that they are not. So why on earth did Gordon Brown agree to turn this into a presidential duel? We in the media love it. Labour may live to regret it.

Cameron probably has the most to lose. Articulate and telegenic, he’s cast as Kennedy to Brown’s Nixon. If he stumbles, his increasingly volatile lead in the polls could easily diminish. He admits he’s a bit nervous:

Clegg, as the Wall Street Journal notes, probably has the most to gain. “A strong performance by Mr. Clegg, who could be a kingmaker if no party wins a majority in the election, could boost the Liberal Democrats in polls,” writes Laurence Norman.

Watch it live at 3:30 p.m. EST on C-SPAN 3, or here.

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