Tag Archives: Nigel Farage

Party Leader Election Debates

Bear with me on this one, I actually wrote it last week prior to last night’s 7-way leader’s debate broadcast. Although I’m feeling perfectly vindicated as the whole thing more or less confirmed my suspicions as detailed below….

UK politics were treated to another novel concept this election cycle, the slightly oddly formatted affair on Channel 4 that saw Cameron and Miliband grilled separately in quick fire succession by the tenacious Jeremy Paxman, in addition to a small studio audience. It felt like a dense affair with little breathing room, as both leaders were put under no small amount of pressure by their inquisitors. Snap opinion polling gave the nominal win over the affair to Cameron by an order of 54 to 46, but the small margin has seen some commentators claim that, due to low expectations, Miliband was the actual victor.

Various other subsidiary metrics were gleaned via polling, relating to matters such as leadership quality, world standing, likeability, veracity etc., but really it’s hard to measure what if any genuine impact the event will have on the election. Reactions from journalists, politicos and the average observer seem to pretty much boil down to confirmation bias, and the much vaunted “undecided” are unlikely to pin their ultimate decision down to what they witnessed. It largely felt like a vapid presentation piece during which we learned nothing new, and the best a sceptic might say is that it was entertaining to watch both leaders squirm a bit.

Frankly, these leadership-oriented events are something of a betrayal of the traditional nature of British politics and a further step in the trend towards imposing a presidential sort of perception on things. For anything that adequately and accurately represents how the Westminster machine still really ticks you would have to include at least the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary. But given the tedious palava that were the negotiations to establish this year’s varied set of cross-party forums, such an eventuality would probably be beyond the capabilities of the broadcasters and parties to achieve.

The seven-way debate on April 2nd could be fairly forecast as a complete debacle, unless ITV’s Julie Etchingham has moderating qualities of supernatural proportions. If you’ve ever watched an early-stage US presidential primary debate, in which there are multiple candidates still in the field, you’d probably agree with that statement. They either descend into noisy and cluttered diatribe, or the moderator wields an iron fist and the strict time allocations reduce proceedings to a stilted competition of who has the best sound bites. And that would be referring to the relatively mild Democratic primaries. The Republican iterations are downright outlandish.

As for the other main formats, the April 16th BBC five-way will offer little by way of improvement for lacking Cameron and Clegg, despite Dimbleby’s formidable experience, though at least the April 30th Question Time between Cameron, Clegg and Miliband carries the familiar and tested feel of a UK political staple. The town hall vibe feels marginally more genuine, as even if the core questions are guaranteed to be pre-approved, there is no grooming the often visceral reactions of the crowd. The people in the audience that night will hopefully feel entitled to express themselves as freely as they often do on many an ordinary Thursday night.

One wonders if the broadcasters considered something completely different though, something that might have offered the electorate a proper look into the parties in a fashion that is actually representative of UK politics. The cross-party aspect possibly does provide an adversarial entertainment element, but really it is completely meaningless. Going back to the notion that the Chancellor and Home Secretary should be representing their parties as well, you could expand further and include other major portfolios, and have broadcasters host single party events that more fully delved into individual party legacies, policies and promises.

Line them and give them a treatment on par with Paxman’s uncompromising assaults on Cameron and Miliband for Channel 4. Perhaps it may appeal less to those who don’t already have a healthy degree of political engagement, but considering a major complaint of the Channel 4 spectacle was that it broadly lacked substance, perhaps not. The format would provide proper focus and strip away the chaff of who is a better debater or performer, which is an utter irrelevance to political competency and ideology.

There’s no doubt the parties would still find a way to moan and quibble over how the broadcasts were released, which day of the week, timeslot, order, interviewer, proximity to election and more, but it would be worth pursuing in future elections if the British public are keen on more accessible modes of having their political options presented to them. The spirit of televised pre-election political broadcasting is in that sense very worthy. But clearly as they are still a newfangled thing in this country, there’s great room for improvement on what we’ve seen so far and are yet to be served up with.


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Spring of the Long Knives

Nigel Farage must be laughing himself silly. Not to be hyperbolic, but chaos has beset the main three parties, as the last few weeks show the knives being drawn from clunky sheaths by not the subtlest of hands. Just today, Conservative cabinet ministers Hammond and Gove turned up the temperature on Cameron by announcing that a referendum on Europe tomorrow would see them voting “out”. The pain isn’t limited solely to the Tory leadership however, as signs indicate Labour and Liberal Democrat factions are steadily beginning to murmur insubordination.

It doesn’t come as the greatest of surprises that Peter Mandelson is dipping his beak back into the news cycle at this point, with words that poor old Ed Miliband won’t be delighted to read. Attacking the vagueness of the rather insipid “One Nation” theme that the opposition launched at last year’s party conference, the more cutting edge of his criticism was about Labour’s broader trajectory and focus. “You have to be more than a slogan and more than a label to get people to vote for you. So much is obvious,” he says.

Clearly not obvious enough to his party’s Commons front bench, who have proved guilty of being little more than a hollow protest bloc under Miliband’s leadership. The odd whispers of exciting, intellectual social democratic ideas that he is reported to be a font of haven’t translated into notable policy or a cohesive party mission. And more importantly, they haven’t translated into an energising force in terms of the electorate. Miliband, and Ed Balls for that matter, have consistently polled worse than their opposites in government.

This will be a strange one for Miliband to compute, given that “One Nation”, a concept pinched off conservative Disraeli, was his attempt to plant the Labour flag much closer to the Mandelson-favoured centre-left. A mild twist, given that Miliband came up through the party in the Brown faction that never quite got behind the “Third Way”, and was propelled to the top by the unions. Without the support of the dark lord of the New Labour movement and having been recently thoroughly spanked by Unite leader Len McCluskey for not being a union lapdog, it seems that Cameron is not alone in his hapless scramble in the dark for an ideological foothold.

Perhaps the most speculative of the treacherous whispers is regarding Nick Clegg, although how his fate isn’t considered inevitably sealed by his party’s current flirtation with ruin is an enigma. Whether or not Gove’s suggestion that Clegg’s opposition to childcare reforms is an attempt to shore up his strength in the party is almost irrelevant. Supposing that the slyly propagated rumour was true, and even if Lord Oakeshott were to put Vince Cable on the throne, the party are doomed to face only more electoral pain for the coming years. The initiative is gone for the Liberal Democrats, and they won’t see another bump in the polls like 2010 for some time, if ever again.

Of greatest import currently is that we’re on the eve of dramatic activity within the Conservative party, with events since the local council elections telling us that Cameron is likely to surrender to most of his right wing’s demands on Europe and immigration. Unless he has suicidal tendencies. Even the “compassionate” sympathisers seem to be getting dragged by fear into the traditional fold as is particularly indicated by Gove, who has been a major supporter of Cameron up to this point and for a long time. The education secretary undercutting his leader so bluntly is no small thing.

Until the 25th hour Cameron was desperately trying to inject enough confidence in his EU “renegotiation” strategy with Merkel to avoid this sort of mess, but UKIP struck too soon and he simply failed in that respect. With prominent ministers speaking their rather expedient piece, adding to the anti-EU chorus of old Tory notables like Nigel Lawson, this bizarre vote on the Queen’s Speech amendment on Tuesday is about as clear a message to the PM that it’s time for obedience on Europe. That, or protracted in-fighting, which could consign the lot of them straight back to opposition.

Tense times, where centre-ground politics are at stake. The country is generally not at all lurching to the right, as the Daily Mail might idiotically suggest in an attempt to deny Labour some comfort out of a very soft performance in the polls, but the race to target the middle that New Labour initiated has presently lost its vigour. I don’t think it’s impossible that we see a set of manifestos come 2015 that much more resemble types from the pre-Blair years. It’s looking that way for the Tories and we still have to see for Labour, but the amount of time they take to start galvanising their bases is directly proportional UKIP’s consummately unwanted longevity.

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