Friday 23 April 2010

Leaders' Debate, Round Two

The second leaders' debate last night was never really going to be a game changer where this general election campaign is concerned. In the first place, despite endless promotion in the media and being the only campaign calendar date of note for the pundits, audience numbers were always going to be much lower than than last week's because of the decision to screen it on Sky News and digital/cable platforms only. This attracted a comparatively paltry four million viewers as compared to just shy of 10 million a week earlier. In all the outpouring of coverage this second debate is getting, no one - at least as far as I've read - has criticised the decision not to use a terrestrial broadcaster. If the debates are, ostensibly, about improving Britain's political culture then locking it away on Sky and BBC News isn't going to do much to promote engagement.

Of course, it's a wonderful irony of history that Murdoch and his cronies were so keen to push the debates in the first place. Not only are they ultimately responsible for unlocking the surge in LibDem support, but the subsequent hysterical attacks from the Murdoch stable (and the rest) are demonstrating the waning power of the right wing press. I bet I'm not the only one heartened to know that in his twilight years, Murdoch is starting to see the influence and power built up over a life time slowly, but inexorably unravel before his eyes.

Again, the debate itself was no great shakes. Once more the leaders disgracefully tried to out-tough each other on immigration. There was more point scoring over Afghanistan and weapon supplies. Brown(!) probably had the best line of the night, characterising Tory policy as "the Big Society at home, but Little Britain abroad." But there were no knock out blows, no howlers. Clegg turned in a confident performance as did Dave and Brown. If I had to score it, Clegg edged it but Cameron and Brown weren't far behind. But serious questions have to be asked about YouGov's 'who won?' poll that appeared on Sky News not long after the debate had finished. Leaving aside the preposterous notion Dave outperformed the other two, there are serious issues of probity when a polling firm - YouGov - whose CEO is a Tory parliamentary candidate, produces a poll bigging up Cameron for a newspaper -
The Sun - who is cheerleading a Conservative victory. Conflicts of interest much?

Off the back of last week's debate there has understandably been much talk of a hung parliament. It's definitely got the Tories
worried. Thus the hysteria about the tanking pound and other fairy tales of economic apocalypse that have nibbled away at the Tories' threadbare collective sanity. As far as I can see a hung parliament scenario is preferable to a Conservative majority. And in many ways, a Lib-Lab coalition is pregnant with its own advantages from a labour movement perspective than an outright Labour win. This is quite apart from the obvious desirability of abolishing FPTP for Westminster elections and its replacement with a proportional system (preferably the Single Transferable Vote), and a reigning in of Labour's attacks on civil liberties. But such strategic musings are probably best left for after the election. But one shouldn't be complacent about this. A coalition between Labour and the Liberals in a hung parliament is no foregone conclusion. The right wing press and the Tories themselves will chew anyone's ear off about the evils of PR, but the Conservatives didn't become the preferred party of British capital by being sticklers for principle. A coalition between them and the LibDems - even if the price is STV - cannot be ruled out.

Whatever happens, in the event of a hung parliament politics in this country will be irrevocably changed. The restructuring of global capitalism these last 30 years has, in Britain, weakened the labour movement, broken up the old working class community solidarities, thrown back its political consciousness while affirming consumer-based individualities and emboldening middling status groups. The internationalisation and hegemony of finance capital has created new fractional divisions within the ruling class too. These processes have slowly, gradually, relentlessly worked there way into politics. Labour and the Conservatives are in long-term decline and new small political forces are making headway at the fringes of the party system. In fact, FPTP has greatly arrested the fracturing of the British party system. Without it British politics would probably be more continental in flavour and more accurately reflect the real divisions in society. That comes with its own dangers - parliamentary representation for the BNP could be a reality under PR, for example - but the opportunities are there for socialists to seize them.


Chris said...

Totally agree with you on yougov. I actually thought Brown outperformed the other 2 by some distance.

The sickening spectacle of immigration bashing (who needs Nick griffin) was depressingly predictable as is the vomit inducing post debate 'analysis'.

Frankly these debates make me long for a post political party society more fervently than ever! It's just that now I don't care how it comes -the abolition of classes, nuclear holocaust, asteroid impact, alien invasion....just as long as it comes soon!

Lawrence Shaw said...

Agreed on this Phil.

I believe a hung parliament could actually be massively beneficial for many organisations, such as trade unions and co-ops, as they cannot be ignored by a heavily "mandated" majority party as they have been for so long - be it Labour or Conservative. This could help us on the road to the inevitable shift from the centre-right free market consensus that has dominated for so long.

There is definite change in the air at the moment. God knows we've been waiting long enough. A lot of previously "non-political" people I talk to are sickened by the shameless actions of the Tory press.

Whilst it is a shame the main beneficiary is Tory-lite Clegg, the main thing I can see changing is exactly what you have highlighted - the unravelling of the power of the traditional press. With the internet so widespread and so many sources of information opening up, more and more people are just not satisified to be spoon-fed their views by arrogant bullies at The Sun any more.

It is a shame the left is still so generally marginalised - unlike the far right. If there had been a real "socialist alliance" batting for the last 13 years, we would be in a very good position right now. As it is, the egos and the multitude of left hierarchies remain firmly in place both outside and inside the Labour party, and I am not seeing much movement away from this...perhaps this election will force the change in attitude we so badly need.

Phil said...

I still and always will blame Scargill for pissing a great opportunity up the wall. Had the SLP launched with Militant on board it would have been a very serious contender. Had it held together the left would have been well placed to benefit from the generalised discontent with politics, as opposed to the hard right.