Shampoo in the Eyes
John Lanchester · The Second Debate
I’m in New York for the 30th anniversary of the LRB’s American launch. While this fact is not rocking the foundations of our democracy, it does mean that I had to listen to the second leaders' debate over the radio. As everybody knows, radio can have a dramatically different impact from television. The famous example was the Nixon-Kennedy debate of 1960, won by Nixon on the radio and, decisively, by Kennedy on TV. Though as soon as I type those words, I find myself wondering what the relative size of the audiences was. In 1960, was the TV audience really so much bigger than the radio one? Wouldn’t that have meant that the impact of the debate was much closer than it is reported as being?
Anyway – I listened to the radio version. Several things were clear. The debate overall was more aggressive. Brown and Cameron were better prepared for Clegg, and did their best to come at him without too obviously being in cahoots; Clegg did well, though he didn’t self-evidently win the debate in the way that he self-evidently won the first one; Brown seemed more relaxed; Cameron was better too. Brown delivered his rehearsed zinger (about his sons squabbling in the bath) with more zeal than anything he’d managed in the first debate.
So much for the difference between radio and TV. Looking up the commentary online, I see that this is exactly the same as what everybody else thought. My sense of it is that by not-losing this debate, Clegg will come out of it a winner, perhaps even a big winner, in the sense that the Lib Dems’ objective will have been not to cede any of their previous gains.
One other thing. I’ve supervised quite a few fraternal bathtime arguments – I’m the Don King of them, minus the hair and the manslaughter conviction and the money – but I’ve never witnessed one that was triggered by an allegation that the Tory’s lunatic-fringe affiliations in the European parliament would have weakened Interpol’s ability to co-ordinate action against paedophilia. If they’re kicking off about that, just wait and see what happens when Clegg gets shampoo in Cameron’s eyes on purpose.