It was the most-hyped TV show of the decade in Blighty — and a mouth-watering 21 million viewers were expected to tune in.
And the broadcast delivered: The first of three 90-minute live debates between the major parties, the first-ever televised in Britain, proved to be a compulsively watchable slice of British political and media history.
“There were no mistakes by either of the three leaders and no devastating one-liners,” says the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson. “What we had was a substantial debate on policy.”
Initial reaction to the election gabfest suggested that the surprise winner was underdog Nick Clegg, the youthful leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Clegg was supremely confident,” says Robinson.
Clegg, who is largely an unknown force in British politics compared to heavyweights Prime Minister Gordon Brown and opposition leader David Cameron, began the debate positively brimming with confidence — and looked to have more or less sustained this style throughout the show.
The event marked an historic first, perhaps not as much a milestone as the first televised presidential debates in the U.S. between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, but there’s no turning back now for Brits.
Blighty has finally caught up with the U.S. by giving voters the chance to see how pols stand up to the white heat of live TV in what may now become a three-way fight.