TV debate: no basis to pick a government


2:44 pm - April 15th 2010

by Dave Osler    


      Share on Tumblr

Five o’clock shadow cost Richard Nixon the 1960 presidential election, or so political folklore has it. Never mind the substantive differences with Kennedy over the missile gap or supply-side economics; the GOP blew it because their man performed badly in a televised debate.

It is on the back of such mythology that tonight’s general election hustings on ITV 1 is being hyped as a make or break event for Brown, Cameron and Clegg. According to a ComRes survey, almost two-thirds of adults in this country will tune in, and 33% say it could make a difference to the way they vote.

Most political activists accept that the vast majority of the population does not share their obsession, and will welcome anything that generates interest in political ideas.

I couldn’t help noticing, for instance, that the two young women whose flats are on the same landing as mine got together to watch the edition of Question Time that featured Nick Griffin. Sue and Paula are perfectly agreeable neighbours, but neither had exhibited any previous signs of politicisation.

The trouble is, the three-way debate format is not one that lends itself to the explanation of underlying political principle. This is all the more true in circumstances which reduce socialism, conservatism and liberalism from distinct ideologies to formulations of nuance, advanced by politicians whose claim to these philosophies is largely nominal.

All of the party leaders will be concerned primarily not to slip up, and secondly to land a couple of smartass one-liners on their opponents. Anything else will be a bonus.

Arguably, it is the left that loses most from a culture in which big ideas are devalued to the point where they have to be delivered as television soundbites, if they are not to be forgotten about completely. It is striking that Labour has often done best in climates in which people have read books.

Unless one of the men on whom the spotlights will be trained tonight makes an unutterable hash of the proceedings, few of the unconverted will be able to spot differences of anything other than emphasis.

The result will be a focus on performance that could make the difference between success and failure. The worry has to be that slick performance in a TV debate is entirely the wrong basis on which to pick a government.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


But it will be a fantastic way to try and ensure the public understands what is on offer, even if it doesn’t change their vote. I’d argue this is less about those that know something and more about those that think that there is no difference between the three and that voting is pointless. If off the back of it those types of people decide to make a stand and vote too, then great.

I’m with Dave on this, with the added (or at least not yet stated) proviso, that I have no wish to elect a president, so would prefer to see my local candidates to represent me debating (no husting announced that I’ve seen).

“Arguably, it is the left that loses most from a culture in which big ideas are devalued to the point where they have to be delivered as television soundbites, if they are not to be forgotten about completely. It is striking that Labour has often done best in climates in which people have read books.”

I’m not sure on this – surely it is all philosophies other than reactionism (traditionally more likely to be Conservative, but I’d say more Labour at the moment) or populism (all three major parties) that suffer. Not sure what you mean Labour has done best in climates in which people have read books though; however, the current government’s education policies may be blatantly suicidal in this light…

But it will be a fantastic way to try and ensure the public understands what is on offer

How? Are we really to believe that there might actually be some substantive policy discussion? In a TV debate? During an election? Pull the other one…

(And even if, by some bizarre freak of circumstance, there actually is some discussion of actual policy, the odds of any of it surviving the transition to government are so close to zero as to be irrelevant.)

They will say whatever bullshit they think makes them look good, and whichever one manages to get elected will then proceed to do whatever the fuck they feel like / can get away with. “What is on offer” is a collection of some of the finest, most shameless liars and conmen ever assembled.

Is this your first time or something?

Five-o’clock shadow didn’t cost Nixon the Presidency – he’d just come out of hospital after getting an infection in a wound on his knee. And then he refused make-up. He looked pallid and tired.

Last night’s Vote Now Show had a great explanation – http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00ryknq/The_Vote_Now_Show_Episode_3/

A TV debate may be no way to decide an election (I agree, though I don’t think the format is entirely without merit), but then, what is?

None of the mainstream parties has had any ‘principles’ for 15 years, or has any substantively different policies on anything important… They propose tinkering at the edges of things – bureaucratically and intellectually masturbating, whilst (the metaphorical) Rome burns.

The closest you get to a “radical” idea is the Lib Dems electoral reform, which should have been implemented decades ago.

6. Shatterface

It’s in HD. You’ll actually see Brown’s jawbone moving beneath his skin.

Bet Cameron still looks like a freshly skinned potato.

Oh dont be such a boring old fart, Dave Osler.

NEWSFLASH!

The debates are not the sole basis for people’s vote but one of the many sources of information for the electorate.

9. Golden Gordon

True
But at least it’s better than the old method.
Rupert, Sun of the Earl of warwick (the kingmaker) to annoint who he thinks should be the next PM


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    TV debate: no basis to pick a government http://bit.ly/9Uyuqr

  2. Jenni Jackson

    RT @libcon: TV debate: no basis to pick a government http://bit.ly/9Uyuqr How true!

  3. The British electorate are dumb … « Various Philosophies of Cynicism

    […] [Let see what Cameron, or Brown, even Nick Clegg says in the TV debates] […]

  4. blogs of the world

    The result will be a focus on performance that could make the difference between success a… http://reduce.li/e8lgl5 #basis





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.