Mass Debating

Another day, another election debate story. This time, it appears as though the Dear Leader has insisted that he’s only going to take part in one of the so-called election debates. Inevitably all the other Westminster chimps have reflexively accused him of being “scared”, and of being, at heart, a wet and a weed, chin chiz.

Unfortunately, again, few come out of this very well. First is Cameron, who clearly doesn’t want to do any debating at all. And that’s because he’s Prime Minister. In 2010, as leader of the opposition, he could stand and take pot shots at an incumbent PM because he didn’t have a record to defend. But now he does, and frankly it’s not altogether stellar. It is pretty arrogant to start laying down the terms under which he will deign to participate in something he said was so central to democracy back in 2010. But it’s also fairly mystifying. For a while now, the Conservative election machine has been seeking to make the leader of the opposition look like a hopeless dweeb, and the press for the most part have followed that narrative. But if Miliband is so useless, why won’t Cameron share a platform with him? Is it because, in spit of the bluster, and Miliband’s obvious lack of telegenic charisma, Cameron is scared stiff that Beaker might actually be intellectually too good for him in the long form debates, without a bunch of braying half-wits in the Commons to drown out any form of incisive exchange. If the fiasco of PMQs has show us nothing else, it’s that Cameron, for all his much-vaunted  PR oll-slick smoothness really struggles to keep up when he gets off-piste. There have been times where that has been excruciatingly obvious over the course of the Parliament.

Of course, now Nick Clegg has said that he will happily take the Prime Minister’s place and represent the Government. But Clegg would happily turn up for the opening of an envelope right now, if only to try and remind people that he’s still there. He’s an irrelevance and should be forgotten. Miliband’s team have of course seized on this and are playing the usual ad hominem card to make their man look good (for a given value of good).

And then there are the broadcasters. They’re having a beanfeast! Lots of lovely coverage to fill up all the rolling news channels! One of the principal problems with the debates as they stand are that they continue a process of turning what is essentially a collective endeavour (Cabinet Government) into a US-style presidential circus freak-show. Actually, what would be more useful, if we’re going to do this, is strip the idea back a bit. By all means have debates, but focus them on issues. So, for example: take the economy, or education. Instead of hauling the leaders up, get the party leads on the issues to take part in individual debates. It spreads responsibility through the parties, and allows for individual issues to be given appropriate consideration. But won’t happen. Why not? Ratings, dear boy. Ratings.Who’s going to sit through all of that crud?

So instead, what we’ll be saddled with is the usual: showbiz for ugly people, performing a set of rigidly defined rituals to a watching audience who will hope for more enlightenment than they’ll  actually get, and where everyone’s job is to not answer questions as artfully as possible so as not to alienate anyone.

No thanks, I’m not going to watch any of them. Life’s too short.

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