#Askthechancellors points to a much more social future

Last night’s debate #Askthechancellors had few surprises but it did prove to be a big hit both in terms of the 2m who tuned in at the peak and thousands who took part in what was the first mass social media political event in this country.

It is true that many many more watched ‘Eastenders’ (2m versus 9m), but not I think a let down as this was really the warm up for the three 90 minute leader debates.

I enjoyed last night’s event and it offered up some surprises even if for me, like most (I’m guessing), it confirmed my existing prejudices.

Looking at Twitter and the blogs this morning that seems to be the overall reaction with the Liberal Democrat Vince Cable showing stately wisdom (not to mention the evening’s sound bite with “pin-striped Scargills”) than his rivals Alasdair Darling and George Osborne (I know it wasn’t just me who thought he looked like the head boy).

Tory Osborne struggled, but to be fair he also scored with his death tax remark that Darling looking uncomfortable at times bought upon himself. But even that score wasn’t enough to dispel the overall impression that Osborne was the loser.

This was all confirmed by viewers who took part in an online vote during the programme that awarded victory to Cable with 36% of votes, compared with 32% for Darling and 32% for Osborne. Coincidentally this chimes with a YouGov/C4 poll before the show that gave Cable victory (do a lot of Lib Dems watch Channel 4?), but put Darling second rather than tying.

There are going to have to be presentational changes. C4 did well with the set and the audience, but what an advantage for Cable being centre stage like that? The BBC and ITV are unlikely to follow suit. Labour and the Tories will both want (I’m guessing again) changes.

I’m not a huge Krishnan Guru-Murthy fan, but I thought he chaired the event well. He did seem however to let Cable get away with a great deal – party leader Nick Clegg is unlikely to get anything like as an easy a ride on the other channels.

A lot of the comment on Twitter was down party lines and some was fairly inane talking about ties and hair cuts, but once it got going it got to the politics and that’s really what counted. Politics was taking place and it felt open and social in a way that it so often doesn’t. That’s important as it felt the two way flow mattered.

People were upbeat about the chance to take part and positive. That really bodes well for the leader debates where the buzz will be significantly greater as the audience grows to something much closer to ‘Eastenders’.

Will Sturgeon writing on the Themediablog said it left him cold, but I (and I sound like a cheerleader here) thought it showed where this can all go.

This time around more people might have been watching ‘Eastenders’ and ‘Coronation Street’, but next time there will be a change.

I’m pretty sure that with this election being so close and the Tories failing to secure a solid lead that what the leaders say will have much more of an impact than the three batters we saw last night.

When they turn up numbers will swell both offline and online and that could be electric. It might not reach Obama levels of excitement (shame this is not 1997 when the choice was so clear and the candidate’s star so bright – but nice to have Tony Blair back on the scene all the same).

With the centre and left coming out on top and Osborne failing to shine, David Cameron will come into these debates with more to do than his rivals. The pressure is going to be intense. That is going to make compelling social media activity and TV.

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  • I agree with you Gordon. I think Will is being impossibilist. Here was my more positive take http://www.charliebeckett.org/?p=2631
    Charlie Beckett

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    C4’s stats were actually 36%, 32%, 32%…hope you didn’t knock that percentage point off on purpose!

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    Craig of course not, my bad i will change that. Nice piece Charlie cheers.