Saturday, April 17, 2010

Nick Clegg's Peter Dunne moment?

During the 2002 election campaign, United Future leader Peter Dunne was allowed to participate in a televised leaders debate for the first time - and came across as a nice, reasonable guy (no-one then knew about his fundie Christian friends). The result was a boost in United Future's support from almost nothing to 6.7%, giving the party a strong position in Parliament and making it Labour's preferred support partner when the time came to negotiate confidence and supply.

Something similar just seems to have happened to Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg in the UK. That country has just had its first ever televised election debate (yes, they're in the democratic stone age. But then, we knew that). Clegg was invited to appear alongside Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Tory leader David Cameron - and came across as a nice, reasonable guy. "I agree with Nick" was the phrase of the evening. The polls have spiked as a result, with one showing a 14% gain for the LibDems among debate viewers. Only a quarter of voters watched the debate, but the result has been a significant boost in support for the LibDems, and it may increase further with subsequent debate coverage.

Unfortunately, the LibDems have a significant barrier to overcome: the UK's unfair electoral system. In the last election, they won less than half the seats they were entitled to (9.6% of the seats for 22% of the vote) - and that was a good result; in the past they've won as few as 3.5% of the seats for over 25% of the vote. Still, with their polling on the rise, and a high likelihood of a hung Parliament, perhaps they might be able to do something about that...