I watched the TV debate as a potential swing voter. I am currently leaning towards voting Labour but the party’s proposed policies are a lot less radical than my own views. I feel a lot of sympathy for the Greens, who are genuinely passionate about radical change to our society. I watched the debates wanting to be convinced by Ed Miliband, but strangely found Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru and Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP more convincing.
Wood passionately defended the NHS in a section where she talked about how it had begun in Wales and needed to be funded by general taxation - something I very much believe in. Despite Miliband's best attempts to gain ground on the NHS, he failed to sound as passionate about the institution as Wood did. Wood also mentioned the skill gap which immigration fills, particular in the NHS, when the main party leaders were falling over themselves trying to appeal to the slightly xenophobic middle-Englander, something I found especially repugnant.
Wood received the first applause of the evening when she stood up to Nigel Farage’s scapegoating of immigrants and scaremongering over HIV. I cheered when she told Farage that "he should be ashamed of himself" whilst defending immigration and the role immigrants play in society. I wanted Miliband to stand up to the embodiment of self-entitled English bigotry, but all he managed were a few hesitant points about peoples’ concerns, which did nothing to win me over and nothing to convince swing voters that Labour is "tough on immigration". The fact that Labour want to appear tough on immigration disappointments me, they should not be allowing the right to dominate this issue so much as it only benefits the Conservatives and UKIP, and Labour will never be viewed as credible on this issue.
Sturgeon also voiced her opposition to austerity and talked about the need to raise government spending to invest and create jobs. I was disappointed that Miliband is determined to emphasise that a Labour government would cut more from the budget, during a time when unemployment is still high, there is underinvestment in infrastructure, and inequality is very significant. Five years of Tory austerity has made us a harsher, meaner, less equal, more money focused society, governed by small-minded bean counters who would propagate suffering if it was cost effective.
We have come through the first recession in history where the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer. The vast accumulation of wealth and opportunity by a small fraction of society threatens the re-emergence of the class system and has broken the mantra that hard work is rewarded; this concept remains only as a political sound-bite. The Labour Party should be whole-heartedly opposed to this, however it fell to Sturgeon to defend the role of government spending.
We can fight inequality and self-interest through the government spending Sturgeon defended, through the NHS, through investing in homes, through welfare spending. Miliband appears to prefer a holding pattern above the point where the Victorian social structure would return, instead of defending the role of government. This is presumably so that a future Tory government can push us over the edge. I was disappointed by the Labour leader, but encouraged by the SNP leader’s arguments.
Sturgeon stood up to Cameron's plans for future welfare cuts. A Labour leader I could be proud of would have stood up to Cameron's plans to balance the nation's books on the back of the poorest whilst cutting taxes for the rich, but he did not. Most likely out of fear of offending the above mentioned small minded bean counters who will never think Labour are credible economically anyway. Labour do best electorally when they capture a spirit of optimism about the future, not trepidation.
I do not seem to be along in thinking that Sturgeon did well that night, she topped 3 out of 4 snap polls asking who had won the debate, one third of Labour and Lib Dem voters support Sturgeon and the most Googled phrase after the debate was whether a non-resident of Scotland can vote SNP. Clearly a significant section of the public, even the English public, agree with Sturgeon’s arguments, so why is Labour so keen to be out flanked on the left by Plaid and the SNP? Is it to gain the vote of the cynical self-interested centrist? I would prefer a Labour Party that appeals to our aspirations (as the SNP does and has Labour did when it won big in the past) rather than a Labour party that appeals to cynical self-interest. I am disappointed by how uninspiring Miliband's arguments are and those of Wood and Sturgeon pleasantly surprised me.
Miliband did have some good moments during the debate. I agree with his dismissal of trickle-down economics, which has only succeeded in creating one of the most unequal societies in history – even if he demonstrated little belief in an alternative. I also agreed with Miliband when he talked about the pressures on private renters and the exploitation of immigrants. These were good moments when he showed some genuine compassion.
Miliband was certainly not the biggest loser of the last debate. That was Farage who at best came across as a broken record and at worst as a dripping xenophobic imbecile, which will no doubt please his core demographic but is unlikely to sway anyone else. Miliband did well but failed to inspire me the way that Wood and Sturgeon did. I want a Labour leader who leads on left wing issues and inspires people to vote for them with a positive vision of a fairer, more equal future. I saw this from Wood and Sturgeon; I did not see this from Miliband.