Comment: too much hot air over TV debates

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I don’t understand the apparent demand there is for general election TV debates. To me, they don’t seem to be of much use at all. They are not carried out in the spirit of informing the public. They are however very useful to the politicians who use them in an incredibly tactical way, entering into a bizarre and facile game in order to put you off the other ingrates and get you on their side.

Pg 11 Natalie Bennett - Scottish Greens

Natalie Bennett, Green Party, has earnt herself a seat on the panel

There has been talk of these debates – which for some reason people see as massively important – not happening. This news barley causes me to shrug my shoulders, but has riled many people who now clamor for them to go ahead. Good old David Cameron has said that he’ll only take part in the debates if the Green Party is also involved. Dave has never really expressed any great love for the Greens, but his reasoning was that if minor parties like UKIP are included, then why not his friends on the left. Most people saw through this blatant attempt at damage limitation which prompted Nigel Farage’s comment, “A chicken running scared.” But this is all these debates are good for. They’re not real debates,rather opportunities to play off one another and manipulate the audience’s feelings. They’ll simply be like an extension of Prime Minister’s Questions. The main parties will pretend they’re different and have a kick about with the political football of the NHS, or maybe immigration.

Whilst I must admit that I wouldn’t mind seeing someone like Farage having a go at the PM – as we haven’t yet been granted the opportunity of that spectacle – this introduces another problem: the focus on the individual. The debates can be won by the charisma and confidence of an individual, based on their performance rather than their arguments or policies. Indeed, the only precedent for these kinds of debates was in 2010 when Nick Clegg wowed everyone, subsequently increasing his popularity and getting him into government. We all know don’t we – as students – what he did then. He went back on one of the most important promises he made – certainly in in eyes of most students – in the very debates that helped him get his party into power. Why anyone would want to continue this tradition I don’t know. It is an example of the danger of being impressed by these glib people. You shouldn’t allow yourself to be. There is a saying that the relationship between a journalist and a politician ought to be that between a dog and a lamp-post. Perhaps for us we might say that we should assume all politicians to be compulsive liars. That may be a bit much, but the point I think is clear. You have to be skeptical.

TV debates between party leaders at general election time is a relatively new thing. People seem to think they are owed these debates, that they are some sort of constitutional right. The fact is we had them last time but apart from that we have never had them. Maybe then, you’ll come round a little way to my point of view. These debates are not in our interest but in the interest of the parties. They reduce politics to a kind of reality performance show, a political X Factor, where you chose your favorite based on what they do on the night. There are now all sorts of options being considered, and we may well end up with seven people all trying to argue over one another. I say, why bother?

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Harry Brennan is a Modern Languages student. He writes about British national politics.

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