A look at social media reaction to the #leadersdebate

ITV’s Leaders’ Debate was a fascinating two-hour event. It was a chance for political leaders to take on their opponents in an open forum as well as talk directly to the public on a number of key issues; the economy, the NHS, immigration and education. It is also the only time we will see David Cameron and Ed Miliband, the only two candidates really with a hope of becoming Prime Minister, debating together as they battle it out for Number 10.

The use of social media goes some way in assessing how each leader fared, but as a whole the event was a social success. The live insight (and spin) from politicians, journalists, celebrities and the general public was fascinating to watch as the event unfolded. The number of tweets counted immediately after the event, at the very least suggesting there is still interest in British politics.

And plenty are still talking about it the morning after. I would argue those active on Twitter are likely to be more politically aware than most. Yet this live format allows them to engage, respond, argue and ultimately share their views.; perhaps even more vocally than they would be in everyday conversation.

A leadership debate is however a very rough, but only slightly ready, version of politics here in the UK. We don’t directly vote for our Prime Minister, even if plenty of voters choose their local candidate because of this fact. However the debate serves as an opportunity to get to know more about the party, thus informing your decision when putting that X in the box on Polling Day. Furthermore, the big advantage of the number of candidates last night compared to just three in 2010, was the way it’s reflecting a change in British Politics to a multi-party reality. In the reputation stakes, the calm and commanding Nicola Sturgeon was my clear winner. Inspiring for those who have the opportunity to vote for her; reassuring for those who may end up relying on the SNP in the next Parliament. It will have given confidence to those unsure about the potential of a Labour-SNP coalition – a very real possibility after May 7. Sturgeon also received the most Twitter-mentions during the debate. leaders-debate-results-tweets

Her performance also mooted the question, what if she was more London-centric?

There really wasn’t much to choose between the leaders of the ‘Westminster three’. David Cameron was always going to be the taking the most shots as the incumbent Prime Minister, but he handled himself pretty well throughout, including when he was heckled from the audience. He remains the only candidate who retains some sense of leadership required as PM. Ed Miliband was calm, making some effective points and was likely the marginal winner of the three on the night, but he does not come across as a man with the steel to lead our county, irrespective of political views. Nick Clegg is always strong during these debates, but the hangover remains from the broken promises of the last election. Despite apologising for them he knows there’s a huge task on his hands to get even half of the seats they won last time. The leaders’ of the Green Party and Plaid Cymru, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood, both fared very well. Given a bigger stage than perhaps they’re used to, it allowed them to increase their reputations and political standing. Wood was particularly strong in her put down of Nigel Farage’s HIV comment (more on him later), saying ‘he should be ashamed’ and this debate will have given the Welsh voters more confidence in her and the party. leanne-wood-farage Credit is also due to ITV’s Julie Etchingham who was firm when needed but generally tried to keep the debate as open as possible. There was plenty of praise for her during and after the debate on Twitter.



And finally, it wouldn’t be Twitter if there wasn’t plenty of witty comments to entertain us during the two hours. Right from the off, comparisons were made with the BBC’s comedy panel show Would I Lie To You? Its host Rob Brydon was quick off the mark:

The opening question came from 17-year old Jonny Tudor, whose name ran the risk of causing commentary to explode before it even got going. Nevertheless, Jonny’s ancestor was proud:

Although his name teed up witty comments very nicely:

Nick Clegg’s attitude of ‘it wasn’t me, but you’ prompted this from @GeneralBoles following the Lib Dem leader’s salvo on David Cameron:

And where would British politics be without a good old-fashioned heckler? 33-year old psychology graduate-turned vegetarian worker Victoria Prosser, interrupted the Prime Minister to air her views on the former-military personnel now living homeless. Twitter however wanted to comment on her attire:


My final comments do however have to go to the human embarrassment that is UKIP Leader Nigel Farage. He tried to pin NHS failings on shockingly incorrect figures, linked of course to immigration, and then claiming we were spending too much money treating foreign nationals with HIV. He then proceeded to rail against his own background when criticising those of wealth and their apparent privileged education. Twitter did not like that:

Remember, however, this is only the beginning. There’s still a month to go until election day.