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Nothing ever changes

If there is any principle or lesson at all to be taken from either ‘live political party leader candidate group debates’ or their General Election equivalent (the ‘Party leaders duke it out’), it is not just that they’re a complete waste of time, but that – as night follows day – they reduce everyone involved (and indeed, whilst we’re at it, also the very notion of Western-style democracy itself) in the eyes of the onlooking public.

No wonder that the anarchists amongst us – and the national broadcasters, of course – are so keen on them.

Anyone professing to be an out-and-out proud (or indeed closet) fan of “car crash television” – or simply, like me, on hand out of pure idle curiosity – could have tuned to BBC1 at 8.00pm last night and watched a cracker entitled Our Next Prime Minister – a five-men-on-bar-stools version of a pub quiz in which they each took turns to humiliate themselves, chaired/invigilated by Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis.

I have to admit that I did so partly out of a self-appointed sense of public duty to report upon the proceedings for the benefit of readers of this organ.

The sight of what hitherto might generally have been generally regarded as relatively sane, self-controlled, well-rounded and disciplined members of the ruling class all now instead behaving like unruly schoolchildren, talking (sometimes shouting) over each other and desperately trying to remember (and endlessly repeat) the mantras they’d been told to learn by rote, the better to differentiate themselves somehow from everyone else, was deeply disturbing.

Why these things ever get set up at all is patently obvious.

The ‘no-hoper’ candidates taking part know only too well that a ‘live television debate’ gifts them two key advantages – items in all too short supply in the modern world of political electioneering.

Firstly, just by being seen in an apparent position of ‘one among equals’, they gain a superior relative chance to advance their cause in the minds of onlookers. In other words, hopefully to “Well, at least they’re no worse than any of the others”.

Secondly, of course, whomever is the front runner – or indeed “runners” if there be more than one amidst the minnows – will have the most to lose.

After all, if you’re a billionaire among a bunch of mere millionaires – and you are obliged to take part in an event in which inevitably everyone will lose 50% of their fortune and lustre – you’re going to come out of the experience a thousand times more diminished than anyone else.

What I fail to understand is how any political party leader – still less anyone currently in power as a Prime Minister – would ever agree to get involved in such a pantomime.

As I understand it, our ‘Establishment’ parties all spend small fortunes on both in-house and consultant advisers on strategy and tactics.

Why do these characters not tell their hirers to avoid any form of group “TV debate” like the plague?

I can only suppose that, the greater the number and variety of your crises, the greater the prolonged need to hire strategic and tactical advisers to deal with them. And thus it is that this particular strand of the Establishment ‘gravy train’ continues to prosper and grow.

It only remains for me to report that – so dire were the shouty and confusing proceedings last night – that I found myself becoming increasing weary … and finally turned off the television and went to bed shortly after 8.30pm.

I’m afraid that thirty-three minutes and 22 seconds of the unedifying on-screen farce was all I could take.


About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts