Opposition Leaders’ Debate: Things to Look Out For

Things are heating up in advance of the U.K. General Election, now only a little more than three weeks away. This week, parties have begun to launch their manifestos, and this Thursday the leaders of five opposition parties will gather in London for the second (and final) debate in which multiple party leaders will share the stage at the same time.

Nigel Farage, Ed Miliband and David Cameron speak during leaders debate. Source: http://bit.ly/1E5y3h9.
Nigel Farage, Ed Miliband, and David Cameron speak during leaders debate. Source: http://bit.ly/1E5y3h9.

Although Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron, and Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg will not be present, the debate should provide some interesting insight for observers of the election. For most Americans there might not be any emotional investment in the debate, but there are things that should be of interest. It is always fascinating to watch other countries practice democracy, particularly a country with whom we share so many cultural, historical, and strategic bonds. It is also only beneficial to learn more about the political intricacies of one of our closest allies. In recent debates and forums, there have been quite a few mentions of the United States, not just as it relates to our alliance but to our policies and politics. Those bits are always fascinating, to see how others perceive us. But as it relates specifically to British politics, here are some things that you might want to look out for:

Ed Milliband and Nicola Sturgeon. Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/incoming/article10096523.ece/alternates/w620/6-Sturgeon-Miliband-Split-v2.jpg.
Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon. Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/incoming/article10096523.ece/alternates/w620/6-Sturgeon-Miliband-Split-v2.jpg.
  1. Miliband v. Sturgeon – Of course all eyes will be on Labour leader Ed Miliband, whose party has been tied in the polls with the Conservative Party. But without Cameron to attack, it will be the dynamic between Miliband and SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon. The SNP are perhaps one important reason this election was not the easy Labour victory that analysts and polling suggested it might be as recently as two years ago, taking a huge lead for many Scottish seats at the expense of Labour. It will be interesting to watch Miliband balance defending himself against Sturgeon, while also going after Cameron in absentia. The other dynamic which may present itself, is that one path to Number 10 Downing Street for Miliband might be in the form of some agreement with the SNP.(Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon source: The Independent)
  2. Nicola Sturgeon – It’s not Cleggmania but Sturgeon has proven herself to be adept while on the debate stage, and has been the unexpected performer of this election cycle. She was praised for her performance in the last major debate, and a number of snap polls conducted afterwards showed her as the “winner” or among the top performers. She’s not afraid to pull any punches. As mentioned earlier, Sturgeon and her party could potentially become Kingmaker, so what she does will be watched by everyone.
  3. Nigel Farage – The controversial leader of UKIP. His party has grown to prominence in recent years for its fierce anti-EU, anti-immigration policy. While he has positioned himself as diametrically opposed to all the establishment parties, it will be particularly notable to watch him on stage surrounded only by left and center-left parties. In the last debate, Farage was not afraid to force himself into the debate, and often found himself defending his position against most, if not all, candidates at the same time. The fact that he’ll have more room to operate with two fewer candidates on stage, means he’ll have more time to speak and go after anyone and everyone.
  4. The Crowd – Audience involvement in the debates and forums so far have contrasted starkly with U.S. Presidential debates. Where displays from the audience are frowned upon over here, beyond the prepared questions at a town hall, the debates in the UK have featured cheers, jeers, groans, and more. In The Battle for Number 10 forum last month (which featured a format similar to a town hall), the audience asked follow-up questions, were called upon randomly, and were pressed to immediately rate the candidates’ responses. There was a moment near the end of the last debate where a heckler from the audience shouted questions to David Cameron, and instead of being shouted down or ignored, Cameron responded to her. While there will be five questions from the audience in this debate, the format seems to preclude any further engagement, but anything unscripted could happen.

Of course, style and entertainment are secondary to the issues facing the British people. Discussions will likely revolve around the NHS, austerity and the budget, and immigration. As foreign, non-European observers, we are not quite as directly affected by these issues, but we can still learn a lot from healthy, robust discussion in the U.K.

The other participants in the debate will be Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader and Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood. The debate is currently scheduled for Thursday, April 16 at 3:00 PM EDT. It will be followed by a response from representatives of the Conservative Party, Liberal Democrats, and the DUP.

Cover Photo of 10 Downing Street: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC/MOD, http://www.defenceimagery.mod.uk/fotoweb/fwbin/download.dll/45153802.jpg, c/o Wikimedia Commons.