It was the impressive 250-seat, banked auditorium of Penarth’s Stanwell School which provided the “secret” venue for last night’s live 2-hour ITV Wales Election Debate.
The venue was well-chosen, looked good, and is now likely to find itself on the location-list for future editions of Question Time, Any Questions and other such peripatetic panel programmes – if it isn’t already on them.
The host and the five party leaders were positioned – left to right – in the order of Mark Williams (Lib Dem), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru) , Carwyn Jones (Labour), Adrian Masters (ITV Wales Political Editor and moderator), Andrew R T Davies (Conservative) and Neil Hamilton (UKIP).
It wasn’t entirely clear how this political pecking-order had been arrived-at for last night’s debate – nor the basis on which ITV had decided on the order in which they would be called upon to speak – but home advantage in most cases appeared to go to Labour.
The lectern line-up – with the five party-leaders on stage – meant that gamesmanship was the order of the day.What was going to count was: –
- who occupied the prized centre-ground on the stage which gets the most camera coverage…It was Carwyn Jones (Labour)
- who would be called on to speak first and open the debate … It was Carwyn Jones (Labour)
- who would close the debate with a closing 30 second statement…. It was Carwyn Jones (Labour)
Of the 250 people who had applied for tickets to attend the programme 4 had had their questions chosen as the 4 main topics for discussion. The four questioners were “seeded” in the audience. Each questioner was featured in a pre-shot filmed profile immediately before they posing their questions on Brexit, on Jobs, on Immigration and on why anyone should believe politicians.
Andrew R T Davies delivered a confident and well briefed performance with zero gaffes although he was not above deploying slogans like – “Carwyn, Corbyn & chaos”, “strong and stable government” – and even, on a couple of occasions, plagiarising Labour’s nostrum “For the Many not the Few“.
The debate did get rowdy at times, with Plaid leader Leanne Wood warning of the need to “defend Wales from Tory cuts”, claiming wages in Wales are “10% lower than average” – crossing swords with Carwyn Jones and frequently attempting to interrupt Andrew R T Davies’s replies. The Conservative leader had to raise his voice to be heard at times – only to be then accused by moderator Adrian Masters of “shouting” .
When to came to shouting however, nothing was louder than a well-known Penarth public figure (and Labour supporter) John Rogan, who knows – better than most – how get oneself heard in a debate. [Mr Rogan organised public election debates in Penarth in 2015 and 2016] . Seated in the audience, and absolutely not part of the ITV format, Mr Rogan was last night a game-keeper-turned-poacher .
He hurled at Andrew R T Davies, last year’s “promise” by the Leave campaign that Brexit would deliver £350,000,000 more a week for the NHS. Davies said he would stand by everything he had said in the EU campaign
It was UKIP leader Neil Hamilton who put that somewhat-stale NHS issue to bed by simply pointing out that after the Brexit negotiations the UK Government would no longer have to pay “£300,000,00 a week” to the EU and therefore it could decide how that money was to be spent – be it on the NHS or whatever.
Full marks for keeping a straight-face however, must surely go to Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones who – without a hint of irony – managed to say (to derisory hoots of laughter from the audience) “Jeremy Corbyn is the person who will lead us to a good result and to victory. I will support him because he is our Leader” .