Last night UK politics changed forever as the stale campaign process was given a much needed kick up the arse. Millions of us tuned in across the country as the leaders of the big three parties were forced to climb down from Olympus and mix it with us plebs in a live, balls to the wall, TV debate.

As a public we were expecting a down and dirty street fight with these three political heavyweights slugging it out for our votes and affections, and for a few brief seconds it came close to that. What we did get was a chance to see a complex and important political debate from the comfort of our living rooms, broadcast right after Corrie, and that alone is pretty special.

So, what did we learn?

The debate format is weird
You can’t talk about these debates without first mentioning the weird rules, which had the three participating parties shitting themselves in the build up. No less than 76 rules were drawn up and agreed upon by media representatives from the three parties to ensure the debates were fair. There were rules about the layout of the stage, about who could talk and when, about who the host would be, about the make up of the audience and on and on and on…

The most obvious and intrusive rule was that the audience were FORBIDDEN from laughing, cheering or show approval in any way. Even winking was banned and punishable by David Dimbleby stapling together your eyelids. This made the debate feel like it was being held in a sealed studio somewhere deep beneath the surface of the earth.

Even though they sucked any atmosphere out of the event these rules are completely understandable. The Nixon/Kennedy debates from the 1960 US election, the first televised debates in America, demonstrated the power of the TV interview. Popular opinion was that those who heard the debates on the radio thought Nixon had won, while those who watched it on television were seduced by Kennedy’s charm and manner, while being equally put off by Nixon’s shifty eyes and now infamous sweating. So it’s no wonder TV debates today are smothered with red tape.

But in this instance there was so much obvious pressure on the presenter, Alastair Stewart, and the production staff at ITV to get everything right and play by the rules, that the majority of the programme was unbearably tense and difficult to watch. Whenever they cut to the presenter twitching and wringing his hands it made me feel really uncomfortable. It looked looked like he’d had 10 espressos before coming on stage. But I do feel for the guy, I can just image anxious producers screaming in his ear to ‘give Cameron more time’ or ‘change the subject now’. And you just know that there were a whole host of Labour, Conservative and Lid Dem “media advisors” (think Malcolm Tucker but more aggressive and less compassionate) watching their every move.

Conservatives are racist
When they got into the actual debating the first question was about the perennial hot potato of immigration. Now call me bias, but whenever I hear a Conservative MP talking about immigrants and reducing the numbers of people flooding into our country my brain just flashes up a neon big warning sign that says ‘blacks out!’.

David Cameron, or Conservibot 2.0, says he wants to reduce the number of immigrants dramatically and put a cap on the number allowed in. He didn’t say how he would set this number, or what it would be. Maybe he’ll throw a dart at a dartboard and add six noughts to it? Maybe he’ll just pull a number out of his ass? Who knows. This whole thing reminds me of the great Stewart Lee quote about political correctness which goes like this; if political correctness has achieved one thing, it’s to make the conservative party cloak its inherent racism behind more creative language.

Colour is important
While all the parties will tell you the colour of someones skin isn’t important, the colour of their tie apparently is. All the candidates wore ties corresponding to their party colours; blue for Conservative, red for Labour, yellow/gold for Lid Dem. Come on guys, is this really necessary? I guess it’s nice way for idiots to get involved with the political process. ‘Me like red. Me want red to win. Go red!’ But what about the colour blind, are they catered in any way or do they regard politics with an angry confusion? If I were one of the three I would break out of this blatant colourism and go to town with my tie choice. Maybe I’d go for one of those keyboard ties from the 80s, or a novelty Homer Simpson one. That would reconnect a disenfranchised public with politics, right?

Gordon brown is “the funny one”
Who saw this coming? Seriously! The dour Scottish lefty is the joker in this pack. The only explanation for it I can come up with is that he’s brought Harry Hill on as a special political advisor.

But as improbable as it was, Gordy really hit his stride when the debate moved on to crime. He scored the first and only spontaneous (and ABSOLUTELY FORBIDDEN) laugh of the night with the joke about the Conservative campaign posters (even though it wasn’t funny). But he wasn’t done yet, not by a long shot. Brown starred knocking them out of the park, left, right and centre. He nailed Cameron with the obviously scripted ‘you can’t airbrush your policies like you do your posters’ line, and his coup de grâce was the brilliant ‘this is not question time, it’s answer time’. BOO YA!

I tell you what, if this election thing doesn’t work out for him I think he could have a steady career touring provincial nightclubs with a low-energy, but critically well received, stand up show. It’s just a shame the public hate him.

Your children are legitimate political capital
As the debate moved on to education both Clegg and Cameron couldn’t resist the opportunity to gloat about sending their kids to state schools. DC mentioned it 3 times no less. Jeez guys, sacrificing your kid’s education for your own political gain, that’s pretty low. Mark my words, any child of mine will have the best education money can buy. It’s a good job David Cameron’s parents weren’t running for election, or they might not have deemed it appropriate to send him to Eton College and Oxford.

Cameron even made reference to his poor dead son Ivan in the healthcare section of the debate. Is there no personal event or tragedy that this man will not mine for political gain? Gordon Brown lost a daughter but you don’t hear him wheeling out her story to make a political point.

Which brings me on to…

Those ‘I met a man who…’ stories don’t work
This debate was littered with these human interest stories that politicans think add personal weight and depth to their speeches. But for me these ‘in Hull I spoke to a one armed Muslim asylum-seeker single-mum, who worked as a part time nurse and she told me…’ speeches are completely irrelevant, empty and distracting.

First off, how do we know who the hell these people are, if they exist at all. They could be mad or stupid or both. Why should policy be based on their one-off tales of the extraordinary? They could be completely out of step with what’s going on in the rest of the country. Nick Clegg proudly told that story of a man who was burgled 5 times, once while at his father’s funeral. In itself this is very sad, but instead of simplifying his sad story and raping it for political gain maybe Nick should have showed him how close and lock his front door.

What are they writing on their pads?
Throughout the debate you could see the guys scribbling away on their pads. I always like to image what they are drawing on there. I think maybe Cameron was drawing a picture of himself, but with a mustache - just to see what he’d look like. We’ve already established that Brown is the funny one, so I bet he was drawing a big fat cock. Nick Clegg, on the other hand, wasn’t drawing at all, he was carefully writing down all the names of the people in the audience who had asked questions so he could refer to them by name later and give the illusion of imtimacy - the sly old dog. Look out for the others jumping on this bandwagon in future debates.

Things might actually change
All three parties have been tarred with the same shit covered expenses brush, but the announcement of more accountable MPs who can be sacked, House of Commons and House of Lords reform combined with the promise of a referendum on those issues (from Labour), and this could all amount to real change for British politics.

No jokes in this bit, it’s serious.

It’s all about the economy dummy
Don’t kid yourself that this election is about anything else. Not just this country, but the world, is slowly dragging itself out of the worst recession in living memory and as such the economy is setting the agenda. Everything, from education, to health and crime all flow from the economy and here we have two clearly opposed plans of action. The closing speeches told you all you need to know. Gordy spoke about the choice between putting in or pulling out (if this was a less serious issue I’d put a nob gag in here) and how we must continue spending to ensure we avoid a double-dip recession, which, by the way, sounds delicious.

In contrast you have Cameron who takes the classic Conservative tax-cutting approach. He would reduce healthcare and education spending while cutting waste to ensure those vital public services did no suffer. This is it crux of the whole election. Tax or spend? Care for the needy or tax breaks for the wealthy?

90 minutes is a really really long time
Man, it was like being back at university watching this thing.

So what now?
Now that the dust has settled everyone from The Guardian to The Mail is reporting a big Nick Clegg win. But is this genuine transition in UK politics from a bi-party system to a three-way? Will the nation really vote for a guy who sounds like he should be a supporting character in Wallace & Gromit? Has the very act of staging the debate with three main parties elevated and legitimised the Lid Dems, making them a genuine option on May 6th?

Only time will tell, but I’m excited to find out.