The first live TV action of this general election was a bruising encounter. But Ed Miliband boosted Labour’s hopes and morale with a focused and passionate performance.
Hell, yes, he has truly arrived on the political stage. And hell yes, he’s shown he is capable of winning this election.
Miliband looked as if he is back to the Ed of the Labour leadership hustings. Back to the Ed when the Daily Mail attacked his family.
He showed passion for his beliefs. Not just what he thinks, but what he feels.
David Cameron can be very good. But he was out of sorts.
He seemed distracted, lacking in focus. A man without a long-term plan beyond his retirement years.
Neither David Cameron nor Ed Miliband got off without taking some political punches. They were both roughed up by Paxman, but that’s what he does.
Cameron struggled to recover from the opening exchanges about the rise of food banks — the growing numbers of people relying on charity just to avoid going hungry.
Paxman reminded him that he had fought the 2010 election on the theme of ‘broken Britain’. Hadn’t the Tories broken it a bit more, was the suggestion.
Then rising Government debt – rising by £500 billion under Cameron. Paxman had done his homework (sometimes he doesn’t). Cameron had not.
Paxman probed on low wages and zero hours contracts, a job but no guaranteed income. Cameron did not seem comfortable dealing with the consequences of his own actions.
His judgement was questioned. Although Cameron did not quite twig this.
HSBC’s boss Stephen Green had been made a Lord and a Tory minister. Had Cameron asked questions about HSBC’s Swiss operation and money laundering, tax evasion and tax avoidance?
Many questions asked about Andy Coulson, later jailed for conspiracy to hack phones? Clearly he had not probed too deeply.
And his support for his friend Jeremy Clarkson, shown the door by the BBC for punching a producer?
On all three Cameron was not happy dealing with the consequences of his actions. And so it went on through immigration, the EU and foreign policy.
Having watched it on BBC, the first commentariat response was from the Tory behind so called ‘free’ schools, Toby Young. Young looked shaken by what he had seen and complained about Paxman’s ‘aggression’.
Cameron was much steadier and more polished with the audience questions. After a bruising encounter which he did not enjoy, he showed poise and composure.
He was helped by Kay Burley taking some time to get involved beyond simply introducing the next question. That finished very downbeat, even boring, and Cameron seemed relieved it was all over.
He will have to be careful not to come across too much like a timeshare salesman looking for us to buy him another 5 years in Downing Street. There is such a thing as too slick.
Miliband faced the same tough time with Paxman. But he was much more focused and on the counterattack with zero hours contracts and a fairer society.
Like Cameron, he was unclear on where he would make the cuts. And a bit shakier still on Labour’s track record on immigration.
But he was not afraid to say – four times – where he thought Labour had gone wrong in the past. He distanced himself from ‘New Labour’ and said some spending decisions – such as the Millenium Dome – had not been great.
He’s clearly not trying to make friends with ‘Mr Dome’, Peter Mandelson.
He took his knocks on the Mansion Tax and defended it well. There would be no deal with the SNP.
An EU referendum. Not a priority and only if there was a further transfer of power by Treaty.
The most uncomfortable questions were very personal. Wasn’t he just a north London geek whose brother would have been better?
He faced those from one audience member, fair enough. But Kay Burley, interrupting and commenting more than she did with Cameron, pressed the same question.
And just for overkill, so did Paxman. Ed Miliband handled them all very well and may well have put that question to bed.
In any event, if the other Miliband boy would have faced some very awkward questions about his time at the top end of the last Labour Government.
The Tories, as they say in boxing, talk a good fight. But their man did not seem to have the heart needed to take the pain and last the distance.
One of those in the TV ‘ring’ was hungrier for it. And hell – yes – Ed Miliband showed he also has the heart and the head.
And he was ‘tough enough’.
No wonder Cameron has been ducking and diving to avoid a true head-to-head debate with Ed Miliband. He was ill-prepared, but experienced enough to get through without it being anywhere near a car crash.
Miliband had passion, energy and impact. He had more screen presence but still has work to do.
It was Ed Miliband’s breakthrough moment – not a knock out moment. Labour will be buoyed by now.
For once the public saw him unfiltered. Not through the sieve and bias of the media.
Ed needs to keep his hat on and batten down the hatches, because the bumpy ride to Downing Street has just started.