David Cameron and Ed Miliband both ‘won’ last night’s TV Q&A session. The Prime Minister put in a decent performance and came out ahead in the snap poll. But Miliband exceeded expectations, albeit ones which were pretty low. It was a given that Cameron would be fluent and deal ably with the casual conversations in the audience Q&A. But some expected a faux pas from Miliband and it never came.
Miliband did not put in a game changing performance, and we haven’t seen yet how large last night’s audience was by the time Miliband came on at quarter to ten. But it has given Labour some momentum ahead of its campaign launch today in East London. On the Today programme this morning, Labour’s election chief Douglas Alexander argued that Miliband’s performance will have ‘surprised’ viewers:
‘A lot of people watching Ed last night, who may have been expecting a caricature that they’ve read about in the newspapers, but instead saw someone who I thought was warm honest and open — but also who communicated that passion and exactly that sense of toughness that you need to do the job.’
And what impact does Alexander think the Q&A session will have had on the campaign?
‘I think it will have begun a process of reappraisal. I think we should recognize the value of these kinds of discussions. Frankly after last night, it’s clear why Lynton Crosby and the Conservatives have been so desperate to avoid a head-to-head debate.’
On the latter point, Alexander is right. There has been a lot of speculation as to why the Tories have been so determined to avoid a head-to-head debate between Cameron and Miliband. The answer was seen last night. By simply turning up and not falling over, Miliband ‘wins’. If Cameron had gone head-to-head with him last night and the Labour leader had put in a similar performance, the Prime Minister would have come out of it much worse.
But Labour’s next challenge is the seven-way debate on 2 April. That will be an entirely different beast from last night and the expectations for Miliband have been raised substantially. He will have to find a way to exceed them again.