I wondered then as I wonder now why Brown agreed to a teledebate. What on earth possessed him, his advisors or his boss (the Noble Lord) that this was even remotely anything other than a car crash waiting to happen?
Teledebating is always harder for the incumbent, especially when things are going badly (and none could deny that things are going BADLY). The prime minister faced a huge challenge which clearly he thought he could rise to. I will be charitable to him, just for once. I think that he believes that he knows how to fix the mess we are in and that he thought he could get his argument across and convince the peoples of Britain of his capabilities. I think that, as was shown in his encounter with Mrs Duffy, he just doesn’t understand the peoples he is paid to lead. Prime time telly on a Thursday isn’t about deep philosophical debate. It’s about reality tv. If Mr Brown’s decision to let these things happen was based on the fact that the public likes this sort of tv with a vote at the end of it, he didn’t think the whole thing through.
In reality tv we vote for the good looking one, the one from our home country, the one with the nicest dress, the biggest boobs, the body we wish we had. We are not used to substance; froth is fine....
I didn’t think it would work. I thought that the figures would be dismal. Ninety minutes of politics? ... No thanks. I’m off to the pub. But I was spectacularly wrong.
Millions have watched. The course of the election has been changed. People may be concerned about local matters; they may be swayed by windmills, roads, schools, and hospitals locally, but the opinion polls have been all about who performed best in the debate. In many cases not the substance, but the stance, the way they looked into the camera, their wrinkles (Brown), their shiny forehead (Cameron) their easy manner (Clegg). That’s what swayed people used to judging reality tv shows.
But they conveniently forgot some stuff. They based it on the American presidential debates. Who do you want as your president? But from Kentucky to New York City, California to Idaho, everyone in the US has a vote for the president.
I can’t vote for any of these men.
And the exclusion of UKIP, Greens, Socialists, Nationalists, the Irish parties of all shades, and sundry others has distorted the game. People are voting on what they saw on the telly; they didn’t see any of these parties so they won’t vote for them. That has hit what little democracy we have in the UK. The Liberals were nowhere till the debates propelled them to first or second, depending on which opinion poll you believe. Anyone who has been left out of this reality tv show has been left out of the election.
It would have been difficult, but not impossible, to arrange leadership debates including all parties. They do it in Canada, and they seem to do it well despite having all manner of parties including those representing first nation Canadians as well as French and English-speaking immigrants. Needless to say that takes work, effort and ingenuity. So we just had the big two and put in Nick Clegg as a sop to everyone else, and the producers got on with ticking the health and safety list.
The SNP will probably suffer. Well, so be it. You can’t cry over spilt milk. We will never be able to stop these debates in the future, but what we must do is sort out a way of making them more representative. And, we can make it work for the SNP.
In the Scottish General Election we should have STV and BBC Scotland debates on the smaller number of matters that concern our government. An hour and a half of questions with Annabel, Alex, Tavish, Patrick, Iain and whoever leads the other parties currently unrepresented in the Scottish parliament....... seems like a plan, yeah?