So the second leadership debate is almost upon us and what did we learn from the first?
Nick Clegg’s performance appears to have energised the election, with the number of people intending to vote having gone up, with a surge in young people registering to vote in the last few days. He certainly appeared to be the most relaxed and assured of the 3 leaders in front of the camera, but did he really talk about his party’s policies in any depth?
I don’t think he did to any large degree. Instead he focussed on talking about his beliefs and values about politics and the need for a change in approach. Seth Godin has said “The only thing people judge about you is how an engagement with you makes them feel.”
The initial polls reflect how Nick Clegg made the viewers feel and it was clearly very positive.
The cliche is that “people buy people first”. The reason it is a cliche is that it is true. The advantage he has created for himself is that many people now like him and will therefore listen to him with a positive frame of mind . They will actively look for the positives in what he has to say and will give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the negatives.
Contrast this with Gordon Brown. During the first debate I thought he was very clear in his intentions, had specific policies for various scenarios and he talked about his values and how they defined his approach to life and work. The problem he had was the fact that he has been in government for 13 years and people have fixed views on him. Many people don’t like him and therefore don’t listen to him with an open mind. Of course they may not like his policies either! People who have met him have usually been struck by his sincerity and the strength of belief in his ideals, but he is not seen as a natural leader. He seems to lack the warmth and charisma demonstrated by Nick Clegg and he will have to work harder than Clegg to make himself heard. Brown has the advantage of authority, experience and strong values but if people vote for personalities he is likely to come up short.
Clegg will face a sterner test in the next two debates, as he no longer has the benefit of first impressions. People will have expectations of him and may well start to look more carefully at his specific policies. or they could go the way of X Factor, where viewers make their mind up who they like and vote for them week in week out, regardless of how well they sing!