Sunday 25th January
This was an American idea, from as long ago as the sixties and last election it was introduced over here. I, like many others watched the debates, but apart from how well (or poorly) groomed before the “shows” I am not sure we learned anything at all about the leaders or their parties. We watched, almost as one does Formula 1, more in the hope of seeing a car-crash than in who the winner will be. There was no doubt that time that Cameron would win and as it happened he fell short of an overall majority. In fact the only ‘blunder’ or concession won was when Gordon Brown got Cameron to reluctantly agree that he would not cut Winter Fuel Allowance. Not that it did Gordon any good at all; he looked ill-at-ease, awkward – and worst of all ‘old’. Nick Clegg won the debates, but still lost both votes and seats from 2005.
There is now contention this year. Cameron obviously doesn’t want to appear, as he will have to defend his policies which have caused such hardship. The broadcasters offered to include Farage but Cameron put up the weak argument that he wouldn’t appear unless the Greens did too. So now we face the ludicrous idea of debates with Conservatives, Labour, Lib-Dems, Ukip, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens. Quite how this can be done I have no idea. Also it is patently unfair as the SNP will only field candidates in Scotland and Plaid in Wales. And what about the DUP, the UUP and Sinn Fein – all of whom have M.P.s at Westminster. It is a farce of course.
A far better idea would be for special hour-long interrogations of each of the party leaders in turn, with maybe Dimbleby and Marr and a couple from ITV or Channel 5 to ask questions of them. The SNP and Plaid and Ulster parties could have their hour-long interviews shown in their respective countries. And just as with the World Cup BBC and ITV could have the two main leaders with BBC2, and Channel 4 and 5 hosting the others. It would certainly be fairer. And in any case, although we all love gladiatorial contests the leader debates tell us nothing about how competent any of them might be at running the country, or even answering questions. It is nothing but a beauty contest. So before it goes any further and the Monster Raving Loony Party demand a podium (they will be putting up candidates in more seats than SNP, Plaid or the Ulster parties after all) let us scrap the idea and have a proper in-depth look at each party.