Deliverance Day minus 6. The three Leaders’ debates on TV have been like a bare-knuckle fist fight, where there are a few boxers in the ring. It is everyman for himself but early on some boxers are picked on and beaten to submission by a group, before they then turn on each other. It is illegal and usually held in secret before a baying mob, with loads of money changing hands. It is called ‘last man standing’, who is then declared the winner. There has been much media discussion about which Leader won each of the TV debates, and bets have been made in the betting shops and on-line. So it is not that much different from cage-fighting.
It does not matter one jot who won each debate because we are not electing any leader to be Prime Minister. The party elects their leader and the leader who can command most support in the House of Commons is invited to form the Government, appoint the Cabinet and become the first among equal ministers. We are not even electing a party to govern us. Imagine if you were only faced with party names on the ballot paper and did not know until after the vote had been counted who the party would elect to be party leader and prime minister.
Actually and legally you are electing your representative to the House of Commons in each constituency. That is why the polls that dominate TV and the newspapers are also irrelevant. This General Election is going to be decided in 20 to 50 marginal constituencies. No matter how you vote in the other ‘safe seats’ it will not make any difference to the eventual outcome. Except, if there is a high level of tactical voting, those seats will no longer be safe. The LibDems are embarked on that herculean task and relying on the personality of Hercule Clegg. UK voters have in the past proved that they are the World’s most sophisticated electorate
We are where we are and a public addicted to talent shows seem intent on getting a winning Prime Minister the same way. The focus is on the Leader and if anything positive can come out of the debates, it is that they may reveal the true character of the prospective prime minister. The negative aspect is that a leader with charisma, groomed to appeal, can elicit support which masks a dreadful party programme. This will happen because these debates are false and superficial. The leaders are prepared, rehearsed and titivated. Their clothes chosen with great care while they are cosmetically enhanced. The rules agreed before hand limit any prospect of an honest public appraisal. Positioning on the stage, lighting and stifled public participation mean that it is stage managed, just like their party conferences. A carefully selected audience is each carefully seated in the auditorium and only those questions deemed suitable are allowed, with the questioner warned not to go beyond the approved question as printed out for them to read.
The character of the leaders is of the utmost importance – it is all about character and trust. But if you want to get under the skin and find out what they are really like, a Leaders debate on TV is not of much help. Gordon Brown’s unguarded remarks about Gillian Duffy in Rochdale are much more revealing. Nick Clegg’s transformation from an atheist to agnostic show what a slippery customer he is. David Cameron’s refusal to give the public a vote on the Lisbon Treaty, when it comes back for re-ratification, demonstrates a lack of sincerity. Those topics would make for an interesting debate if the audience was allowed some spontaneity.