Wednesday 2 April 2014

Nick 'n' Nigel on the Beeb: Post-match analysis

So, did you tune in to watch Nick Clegg v Nigel Farage live on BBC Two just now? (I did - though only thanks to Sue, as I'd forgotten it was on.) 

I thought that Nick Clegg had a slight edge over Nigel Farage in the opening minutes but he lost it completely around the 20 minute mark. Nigel Farage was the clear winner from that point on, dominating the arguments...

...and just as I'm typing that in come the results of YouGov's latest poll: 27% think Nick won, 68% think Nigel won - an emphatic win for Nigel.

Nick Clegg tried the aggressive approach (and some). In those opening minutes, that allowed him to bludgeon Nigel Farage with repeated interruptions. His tactics throughout were those tried-and-tested politician's tricks - the use of straw man arguments and the endless repetition of certain words and phrases ("scaremongering", "fantasy", "turn the clock back" and "shun the modern world"). Unfortunately for him, (a) his aggression ran out of steam as Nigel began rising to the top of his game, (b) his 'straw men' were so crude and silly that few viewers would have been taken in by them and (c) his endless repetitions are the sort of thing that many people find tiresome. That whole aggressive approach probably irritated people too. 

Nigel Farage was more polite to begin with, but grew more assertive as the debate went on, finally reaching the point of aggression when he accused Nick Clegg of being a liar. That point may have counted against him were it not for the fact that Nick Clegg did seem to have been proved to be lying, and failed to parry Nigel Farage's punch here. Nigel was Nigel. He came across as honest, and plain-speaking - always the key to his appeal. He was at the top of his game for much of the final two-thirds of the debate...and, as a result, was the clear winner.

Well, that's my take on it...and,as more polls come in whilst I'm typing, that seems to be the viewing public's verdict too - and by a landslide.

As a pundit on the subject of BBC bias, I'm also duty-bound to speak my brains on how I thought it went for the BBC. 

The key questions here were:

(a) was there a pro-EU/pro-immigration bias, or an anti-EU/anti-immigration bias in the selected audience questions?
(b) did the audience seem biased (as judged by the amount of applause for each speaker)?
(c) did each guest get a roughly equal amount of time to speak?
(d) did David Dimbleby behave like an impartial presenter? 

My tally card suggests that the answer to (a) is "neither". There were eight questions. All but one (a strongly anti-EU question) were carefully-worded so as not to be too one-sided, though I would judge some to be pro-EU and some anti-EU/anti-immigration. You certainly couldn't prove a pro-EU/anti-immigration bias on the BBC's part from this set of questions. 

On the question of the audience, well, at times Nigel Farage got stronger-sounding applause, at other times Nick Clegg got stronger-sounding applause. Oddly,Mr Clegg got most applause during the immigration section, while much of his other applause was tepid. Nigel was well-clapped just as often, and on a couple of occasions with more vigour. No one booed, and there were no heckles thankfully. So, again, it would be hard to justify an assertion of BBC bias over audience selection here.

On the question of time given, it was interesting that David Dimbleby himself said (midway) that Nick Clegg had taken more of the time so far - due to him talking too much (all those interruptions) and he attempted - by my rough-and-ready reckoning - successfully to counteract that trend in the course of the second half of the debate. So, again, hard to blame the BBC here for bias.

What of David Dimbleby himself? Did he interrupt either speaker more than he other? Did he question each speaker in a roughly similar way? I'd say that he did interrupt Nigel Farage more often than Nick Clegg, and in a more challenging way, but he wasn't too far behind in asking Nick Clegg challenging questions either. It probably sounded worse because he challenged Mr Farage repeatedly at one point, and because some of those challenges were more focused (as over Ukraine, or the Norway-Switzerland situation). It would be hard to make too much of this though.

So, I'd judge the debate to have been fairly handled by the BBC. 

Thus ends my punditry for this evening.


  1. I thought David Dimbleby’s chairmanship was even handed but there were one or two subtly subversive tricky wicks. Selected quotes sporadically flashed on-screen; strategic shot of stony-faced member of the audience during *sensitive topic*.

    I thought Nigel Farage’s intro went down slightly better than Nick’s, and the audience responded more enthusiastically to Nigel until *sensitive topic* cropped up and P.C. rules of engagement kicked in. Nick’s fortunes started to look up, but he nipped them in the bud with a couple of clunking and intrusive pre-prepared audience-pleasers. From thence we were treated to a classic lesson in audience-alienation. How to get from deputy PM to Billy no-votes by a self-inflicted backfire.

    The ‘Putin’ strategy bombed the first time it was deployed, but Cleggy soldiered on, resurrecting it in desperation till “Your friend Putin” was teetering on the verge of “You want to marry Putin” when he was saved by the bell.

    This morning Nick Robinson debriefed with equally clunking damage limitation. Should Nick Clegg regret challenging Nigel Farage to this debate? No, of course not. He even (probably) increased his waning popularity by speaking up for “a moderate and tolerant Britain”

    See what he did there? As they say on the interweb.

  2. The big shocker for me was the audience. No crescendo of applause for Clegg's every right-on uttterence, no booing of Farage even when he claimed Clegg was willfully lying. Craig, a while ago you posted on the difficulty of achieving a balanced audience for programmes such as Question Time. Last night went some way to proving to me it can be done - if they want to do it.

  3. My lesson from it all is that we may well have seen the death of the political class, and any pretence that they have the foggiest notion of what real people think.
    For a load of media shillers and their political spinners and political gobshites-it really MUST bother them that we don`t give a stuff about presentation, eyes to camera or dog-whistle techniques from AdLand.
    Farage had the correct CONTENT-anybody there at the BBC remember THAT?
    Clegg might exemplify the corrupt, venal and double-dealing elite( witness his efforts at "humour", and the attempts to paint Farage as the Euro gravy train candidate, as opposed to himself!)-but if he even had SOME kind of message for staying in the EU, he`d not have won-we`ve had 40 years of it now...from Neil Herron/Steve Thorburn through to the proposed AirForce and Redings crap on wanting a new federalism-Crimea and Ukraine disasters-and he has no message at all...just trust the elites.
    Farage only has to articulate the no position, and mock the global pretensions and bugaboos of life without Barroso...and he`s home and dry.
    That the political elite can`t see this will only make revenge all the sweeter when it comes...deluded, guilt-tripping haters of the English working class-and leeching off their taxes at the one and same time.


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