Polls still too close to call after first election "debate"

27 March 2015 -


Surprisingly good showing from Miliband in party leaders’ TV debates means there is still no clear trailblazer in the race to No 10

Will Edwards

“Hell yes, I’m tough enough to run this country”. That was the message that “North London Geek” Ed Miliband wanted to get across last night in the first of the live election programmes featuring party leaders.

On Thursday night, prime minister David Cameron and the Labour leader faced separate interviews, one right after the other, from Jeremy Paxman and Kay Burley (Cameron had refused a head-head debate). Then in the second part of the joint Sky News and Channel 4 show, the two politicians facing questions from a studio audience.

While the election polls struggle to find much between the two parties, Miliband probably went into this TV showcase as the underdog. He’s faced accusations from the public and even from his own party that he’s not up to the job – indeed, during his keynote Labour Conference speech a few months ago, he even forgot to mention the economy: arguably, the biggest issue facing the country.

Cameron is more used to the high profile, tough interviews and he usually seems more at ease on camera than his opposition – but people were surprised how poorly he came across during the TV debates of 2010, and so there was considerable excitement last night over the question of who would come out on top.

The leaders were tested on various issues such as immigration, where Cameron admitted that he had not been able to reduce the number of people coming into the country to “tens of thousands”. Miliband, meanwhile wasn’t able to give a number for the amount he would allow in – answering only: "I'm not going to pluck a figure out of thin air".

Miliband did look stronger on TV than he had in similar interviews of the past. His body language has improved, and he was obviously keen to come across as more credible, with prime minister potential. As he said, "I'm a pretty resilient guy, and I've been underestimated at every turn. People said I wouldn't become leader and I did. People said four years ago, ‘He can't become prime minister.’ I think I can."

However a Guardian/ICM poll after the event seemed to show that Miliband’s efforts hadn’t been quite enough, with 54% of those asked saying that Cameron had come out on top.

With just over a month until what could be the closest election in years; the interviews and debates will make a big difference in swaying the undecided voters. Cameron may have won this round but the Tories might be worried about how close polls put the leaders’ performances.

Will Edwards is managing director of media training consultancy Bluewood Training.

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