In the run up to one of the most anticipated General Elections in recent memory, a furore is brewing over a televised debate between the leaders. Admittedly, we live in an age where technology dominates the media. Surely then a televised debate is the more modern way of voters being fully involved with the election. But does it really serve a political purpose?
Prior to the 2010 General Election there seemed to be widespread approval of the introduction of televised debates. After years of campaigning, the electorate could finally scrutinise party policies. Equally broadcasters could generate interest in mainstream politics that had perhaps wavered in recent years.
Among several polls such as YouGov, #David Cameron never won a debate outright. Rather it was Nick Clegg who benefitted from the increased profile. A poll in the Times even had him 22 points ahead of Cameron. From such results, one would think that the Liberal Democrat leader had converted voters. According to the most immediate poll prior to the election though, voting intentions for the Lib Dems stood at just 22% behind Labour with 31% and the Conservatives with 37%.
So on the back of a mediocre performance in the TV debates, David Cameron formed a Conservative led coalition. So clearly viewers of the debate had found Nick Clegg impressive enough on TV but not so impressive that he took a majority vote. From these results it seemed that voters had made their minds up before the debate and were not going to be swayed.
What was the point of the debates then? Was it sheer curiosity or was it the electorate wishing to see a political slanging match? Either way, it held little political justification and was perhaps not a constructive use of resources.
The Conservatives seem to be all too aware of their leader’s failings in the debates as they seem desperate to avoid a repeat. His previous line that the Green Party should be included in such a debate is too much of a smokescreen to hold any truth. If it was, why is he not championing the cause of every other fringe party in the land? It seems that voters know the real reason Cameron is keen to avoid a debate. His name is Nigel Farage.
Like him or loathe him, the cigar smoking, pint drinking UKIP leader would surely thrive under the spotlight. Recent appearances on Question Time and even ‘Have I got News for You’ has shown that he can turn heads. Other mainstream leaders must worry that the publicity concerning Farage and UKIP would skyrocket if he took part in the debates. As the results of the last debates and the fortunes of Nick Clegg show, a performance in these debates can lead to an influence in #Government.
If Farage were to be involved however, it would only show that these debates are not about politics. It is simply a sideshow. This would work to Farage’s favour but would not increase the political legitimacy of the election as a whole.
Personally speaking, I for one worry that the British election system is regressing to that of our transatlantic cousins. US Presidential election debates have been longstanding for over fifty years. Elections are won and lost by them. As Richard Nixon can tell you, sweat on a man’s face can cost the Presidency and as Ronald Reagen can tell you a simple quip of “I am paying for this microphone” can hand you it.
As much as this clearly works for America, it does not work here. For Britain to maintain political credibility, the General Election cannot descend into a televised circus.