I'm not mentioning anything to do with policy here, as the manifestos should be giving all of that, and in a more easily-digested form. This debate was all about presentation. For once, we got to see the three 'potential' Prime Ministers on a single platform, working within a specific set of rules, and we got the chance to judge them as people - the same way you judge a bloke in the pub: do they come across as human, decent, friendly people? In a sense, that is the most important question, as their policies are so close as to be almost indistinguishable. We are going to vote for the person we trust the most to get us out of the incredible mess we are in - and seeing the three side-by-side is probably as good a way as any to do it.
I think Alistair Stewart showed more nerves than any of them. I lost count of the number of times he cut someone off mid-sentence, when for once they weren't waffling but were actually making a point I wanted to hear. The 'Moderator' can afford to be a little bit more relaxed next time, I think.
So, how did they do?
I'd give Clegg the win. He came across as sincere, fresh and friendly. I'd happily go for a pint with the guy, as be reasonably certain that the evening would be entertaining, and I wouldn't be pinned by the ears against the wall while he shouted policy alternatives into my ear.
Cameron was close behind. He looked more authoritative and mature than Clegg, and spoke well about things that were close to his heart. I did wish that he had laid into Brown with a bit more gusto, though. Brown gave him some open goals and he didn't grab the opportunity. Maybe in the next two debates, when he has got the confidence to understand that upsetting the apple-cart is what he is there for, he will catch fire and really show what he can do.
Brown was, to be fair, much better than I had thought he would be. He kept his temper, and spoke almost like a normal human being. There was still a lot of the tractor statistics about his delivery, but it was far less pronounced than at PMQs. He did himself no favours, however, by talking over Cameron and smirking to himself when the other two were talking. He looked arrogant and self-satisfied. As the incumbent, with 13 years of government to defend, he could have been more dignified. The reference to Lord Ashcroft and the pre-packaged soundbites sounded forced.
Bike magazine, back in the late 60s, invented the format of the Giant Test, where several similar and competing bikes would be obtained, and ridden side-by-side to make direct and often revealing comparisons. This debate was something like that, and had a similar value. I wasn't bored, and I will be watching the next two.