Friday, 30 April 2010

Some Reflections on the Leaders' Debate

1) Unlike the Punch & Judy farce of Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons, the debates have been about policy. Unfortunately, because the parties differ in degree rather than substance on key issues (economics, cuts, foreign policy, immigration) the terms of the debates were tightly circumscribed. When one candidate broke with the consensus - i.e. Nick Clegg on an amnesty for "illegal" immigrants, not renewing trident - his opponents conspired to pooh-pooh the positions and swing the debate back to the safe centre ground.

2) They may have shone a spotlight on policy, but ironically media comment has consistently reduced the debates to beauty contests. Millions of words have pondered Clegg's eye contact, Cameron's smoothness, and Brown's clunking delivery. Press spin - particularly the Tory press and Sky News - has been exposed as unashamedly partisan and propagandistic, aided and abetted by a slew of instant and easily manipulable polls.

3) Despite this, there is some evidence the debates have (temporarily) arrested the decline of mainstream politics. This was most dramatically demonstrated by the poll surge for the LibDems, but also the
big rise in voter registration. Most significantly, large numbers of the group least likely to vote - the under 25s - will apparently turn out for the first time ever next Thursday. It would appear the debates have short circuited the disconnect by replicating the (TV) audience participation of the likes of Big Brother and The X-Factor. Both shows establish a relationship with the viewer by constructing participants' personalities and putting their fate in the hands of the viewer. The effect of TV votes are immediate and visible. While you can't press the red button to elect the most telegenic government (yet), the majority of people who don't normally follow politics have had their voting decision influenced by their view of the debates.

4) I have spoken to more than one person during this campaign who've said their vote was conditional on the outcome of the debates. So the genie is out of the bottle: woe betide future party leaders who elect not to participate in the Leaders' Debate. The problem now is the tendency toward personality politics is strengthened. The era of politics being showbiz for ugly people is over: the pressure to find pretty faces to front parties is almost irresistible.

7 comments:

Red Mike said...

"The era of politics being showbiz for ugly people is over: the pressure to find pretty faces to front parties is almost irresistible."

Damn well it looks like its back to planning a coup for me.

Joseph Edwards said...

" The era of politics being showbiz for ugly people is over: the pressure to find pretty faces to front parties is almost irresistible."

Well, that's me out, then. Anyone know where you can sell a Twitter account?

SamG said...

"The era of politics being showbiz for ugly people is over: the pressure to find pretty faces to front parties is almost irresistible"

As so it seems is the era of ideas and presenting those to the public. Instead whatever the public think, no matter how ignorant or stupid, is to be made party policy. Think immigration to get the picture.

Though thinking this through as I am writing, at least you can lie about immigration but an ugly face is just an ugly face.

Brother G said...

"The era of politics being showbiz for ugly people is over: the pressure to find pretty faces to front parties is almost irresistible"

My time has come!

Arthur Bough said...

I make no secret of the fact that I didn't like the idea of these ebates, because they would be "beauty contests". But, they are now a fact of life. We have to try to see how we can subvert them, and use them to our advantage.

For one thing, they open the possibility of demanding wider, more frequent debates. There have been TV debates all over the country, but they have been on the Parliament Channel at times when no one would watch. But, that just means demanding they be held at more mainstream times on mainstream TV.

Also, if its to be reduced to a beauty contest why should not each Party choose its "Champion" as the medieval knights used to do, so that instead of it being made presidential control is kept with the party who select the representative they think can best portary the Parties policies.

It was interesting on "This week" where I think it was Portillo who said that he foresaw a lot of confusion as people came to vote, and couldn't find the names Brown, Clegg or Cameron on the ballot paper!

Chris said...

The idea of putting forward a champion is a non starter, the other parties would then question the capability of the leader. They would say he was unfit for purpose.
No party would take the first step. So if we are to have these wretched debates then the main ones will be the leaders debates. After all it is the TV companies who pressed for these debates and they will demand leaders debates.

This Cowellisation of society just has to stop!

Arthur Bough said...

You may think it has to stop, but now the geni is out of the bottle it caan't be put back. We have to find a way of subverting it. I agree that if a Party said they wanted to put up a champion other parties would seek to capitalise on that, but if any party said they wouldn't take part they would do the same.

I think that if a Party argued the case well in advance that elections are about thee elections of parties not leaders, that leaders debates are only appropriate if their is a Presidential System, that the function of a Leader is far more impportant and wide ranging than just being able to stand on a podium for 90 minutes in a beauty contest, and that therefore, the Party should have the right to choose who it felt could best fulfil that function, that in itself would be a means of arguing against the Cowellisation. Once a party had done it, the name calling would lose its effect.