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Back in the day

Brian Taylor | 11:32 UK time, Friday, 30 April 2010

As a youthful journalist, the first artice - or "piece" as we aspirants learned to say - which I wrote for a relatively grown-up publication was a theatre review.

I have remained grateful to The Scotsman for publishing my tyro meanderings: a mercifully brief analysis of some dramatic masterpiece at the Byre in St Andrews. (The theatre, that is, not the cowshed.)

Later, I persisted in this adherence to the arts when employed by the P&J in Aberdeen.

Indeed, I recall provoking a distinct bout of Aberdonian disquiet when I rashly panned a show by local artists.

There was talk of running me out of town or blocking my supply of rowies.

The old habits returned as I attempted to analyse the last of the prime ministerial debates last night. There was pre-theatre tension.

How would Gordon Brown cope with the bad notices which attended his gig in Rochdale?

Clegg catchphrase

Would David Cameron learn to relax on stage? How about the new kid, Nick Clegg? Was his apparent success just novelty factor or was there real talent there?

And, of course, there was the dog in the night who was preventing from barking, Alex Salmond.

There were evident theatrical tricks on show. How about Nick Clegg making a fuss about finding exactly where the questioner was in the hall?

That was a stage device to suggest to the audience that they had his full, unsullied attention. That they mattered, they really did.

Or Mr Clegg's catchphrase: "There they go again", suggesting that his rivals formed a jaded cartel.

Again, though, it was relatively effective although perhaps without the salience which novelty provided in debate one.

Or David Cameron with his repeated, staged references to prolonged conversations with voters in the street. What could he mean? Rochdale, of course.

Tory pastiche

Or Gordon Brown's well-rehearsed prologue, apologising for Rochdale but insisting that he got far more things right, notably with regard to the serious business of the economy.

On policy, I suspect that David Cameron will be well pleased at having, at least, challenged Nick Clegg on a range of topics from the Euro to immigration.

Mr Clegg protested that the criticisms were a Tory pastiche of his true position. He rebutted forcefully.

But the points were made although it is perhaps a little late in the day for Mr Cameron to build the prolonged attack that is generally thought needed to sway voter opinion substantially. We shall see.

Gordon Brown hit Mr Cameron repeatedly over the economy, virtually ignoring Mr Clegg. No more: "I agree with Nick".

At one point, the PM said that plans by his opponents to limit the scope of tax credits would prevent any accommodation with . . . the Conservatives.

I suspect he meant to say the LibDems and David Dimbleby tried to clarify the matter, without success. What do you reckon?

On spending, perhaps the most effective contribution over the evening came from Alex Salmond during Question Time when he cited the Institute of Fiscal Affairs in evidence to the effect that the three Debate participants were all underplaying the extent of the cuts which are pending.


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