Saturday, 7 March 2015
We need a debate about these debates...
So the broadcasters are to go ahead with their leaders’ debates with or without the Prime Minister. They have been quite barbed about David Cameron exercising his prerogative to pick his battles and have elevated these flimsy showpieces of shallow, sound-bite, reality TV jousts to being essential bulwarks of our unwritten constitution. But do we really want the election being decided on this presidential format, by how well a single representative from any party does on the day?
I have to admit the thorough thrashing that Nigel Farage gave Nick Clegg last year was comedy gold, but this is serious. And surely the Labour Party must be cringing at Ed Milibland’s assertion that he is up for all three debates; any time any place anywhere… anybody? The proposed Cameron-Miliband, head-to-head would probably have been the only one worth watching and I reckon this extended PMQs without the braying of the back benches would benefit Cameron far more than the juvenile idiocy of his Marxist opponent, but in playing this puerile gamesmanship card I think Cameron has handed the opposition a gift.
Oh well. One thing is for sure; the seven-headed beast of a format that will include the Prime Minister will be nothing more than David Dimbelby’s Question Time without the less partisan panel members that normally help to anchor it in reality. Instead it will be a slagfest, a slanging match, a shouting contest, a gainsaying festival of fantasy, hyperbole, hubris and dodgy sloganeering which will have exactly the effect that has driven so many to flirt with Ukip. The best thing Nigel Farage could do on the night is to simply shrug and point at the others, slagging each other off.
But will it re-engage the electorate with politics? No. Will it enlighten us as to the detailed policies of the respective parties? No. Will it help us narrow down our allegiances? No. Will it even be entertainment? Only to those who are wondering when the DNA test results will be announced. In fact I forecast it will be watched by an oddly mixed audience; some who are genuinely interested in the outcome of this, the most important election in the UK for almost forty years, but also it will attract the ghouls, hoping for a scent of blood. It certainly won’t aid the cause of democracy.
At ninety minutes, minus the questions and interventions, there is probably less than ten minutes per participant to develop momentum and bring their arguments to a climax. So, is it polite to watch a bunch of strangers mass-debate live on television? And will they all come out of it looking like nothing more than a bunch of grunting, gurning tossers?