As a Rust commentator upon politics I felt it my duty to watch last night’s television debate chaired by David Dimbleby from Westminster’s Central Hall on BBC1 in order to bring readers my latest report from the General Election front-line.
[I should perhaps begin with my traditional disclaimer that those seeking serious analysis of what occurred can gain their fill from newspapers, television and radio punditry – and may already have. My viewpoint is simply that of an interested and relatively impartial onlooker].
The elephant in the room was, of course, that David Cameron and Nick Clegg – the coalition partners – were not in the room.
My received understanding had been that Cameron had refused to take part and initially I could not fathom why Clegg did not. However, last night after the debate was over – in an interview with Emily Maitlis in the ‘spin room’ – Danny Alexander, Lib-Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, claimed that Clegg had wished to take part but had been declined the opportunity.
Separately, William Hague (for the Tories) sought to explain the situation away by saying that Cameron hadn’t refused anything – the entire scheme of set-piece Election television debates had ultimately been devised by the broadcasters and put to the parties, who simply had agreed it: last night’s was accordingly ‘the Opposition debate’.
I’m not a particular Cameron fan myself, but I could totally see where he was coming from if the reports that he was not keen on televised debates on principle are true.
Although (apparently) the public – or rather the politicians and pundits – love them, they fail to shed much light on the issues, or indeed the different party policies being peddled, but rather tend to result in a ‘leaders beauty parade’ in which the incumbent government leader is at an inevitable disadvantage for at least two reasons.
Firstly, because incumbent is the only one actually putting his policies into action, he’s the equivalent of a ‘fish in a barrel’, there to be shot at by everyone else involved for every conceivable cock up or failure (real or imagined) … and this by people who, because they have no track record to defend, can promise voters they will deliver any fantasy Nirvana-la-la-land they wish without the inconvenience of having to back it up with any auditable facts, explanations or justifications.
Secondly, because – as night follows day – the scheme of allowing every ‘minnow’ politician representing a ‘minnow’ party equal billing, lectern height and screen-time as the Prime Minister has the inevitable result of ‘levelling off’ – i.e. ‘raising up’ everyone else and/or bringing the Prime Minister down to their level. The minority parties and also-rans therefore gain greatly from such events whereas the incumbent loses.
Think on this. Last night Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru) and Nathalie Bennett (Green) must have thought their Christmases had come early by being given this opportunity to be seen on the national political stage, which gave them and their party far more exposure than their policies and true relevance justified.
But, if you’re having them, why not also invite representatives from Northern Ireland, the City of London, the BNP, the Monster Raving Loony Party, Freedom for Cornwall, Independence For The Northern Powerhouse, the Let’s Bomb Russia Alliance and indeed the Bring Back Hanging For Shoplifting coalition?
In my view, the above proposal would bring a welcome table-spoonful of ‘fairness’ to the proceedings.
For what it’s worth, my individual impression of the leaders’ performances last night runs as follows:
ED MILIBAND (Labour)
Although I’m a subscriber to the ‘unelectable geek’ stereotypical perception of the Labour leader, he was by far the most impressive performer on the night to me as a television viewer. He ‘presented’ as comparatively intelligent, calm, honest, assured and largely in control of himself and the situation. Simply by achieving that, for me he scored 8 out of 10 in this company.
LEANNE WOOD (Plaid Cymru)
Repeating her performance of the first set-piece, she came across as a whingeing moaner from a relatively unimportant and ‘victim’ part of the UK. Everything was somebody else’s fault. She wanted an ‘end to austerity’ but without having any clue as to how she’d find the money to raise public spending in Wales to the levels she was fantasising about – well other than perhaps borrowing it all and then bankrupting the UK. [3 out of 10].
NATHALIE BENNETT (Green)
A basket case with an Australia accent – a great (unintentional) comedic turn. [2 out of 10].
NICOLA STURGEON (SNP)
Another feisty, spunky, ‘take no prisoners’ outing for the new President of the Scottish Socialist Republic. However, her relentless aggressive tone (totally devoid of light and shade) is beginning to bore this viewer. I suspect by now that her capacity – and now seeming willingness – to highjack Ed’s pitch for power may be worrying Labour strategists. [5 out of 10, with 2 points off for irritating me].
NIGEL FARAGE (UKIP)
Either a complete twat or a very cunning operator. His ‘man down the pub with a fag in one hand and his third pint in the other’ persona is Grade A Marmite. The other (liberal with a small ‘l’, thinking) parties and their adherents plainly despise him, but (the irony is that) he doesn’t care and – if his strategy was simply to play to his core vote watching at home – he succeeded. [5 out of 10].