Tuesday, 22 December 2009

TV Times

Finally, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century (let's not go down the usual, it doesn't really start until 2011 route) Britain is going to be allowed to join the rest of the world in seeing and hearing our leader and potential leaders debate on television. Whether we would be having this if Labour were ahead in the polls is doubtful. We certainly never did under Blair.

Gordon Brown and his team will be hoping desperately that he can pull off a great performance in these debates and make them into a game changer. Saving the world has not worked, dividing lines aren't divisive enough and blatant bribes seem to have been a damp squib. He has, it is true, recently performed better in the bear pit of PMQs. But a television debate is different entirely. It will play much better to Cameron and Clegg's strengths than to Brown's, they are much more personable and TV friendly than Brown. Anyone doubting this just has to remember that gurning video of him released by Downing Street last year in which someone had clearly told him to smile more often. Please god don't do that again.

Ultimately, unless there is a major gaffe or Gordon loses that legendary temper, I doubt that these debates will make much difference. They probably will get a decent audience though, if only for the curiosity value. They are certainly a welcome innovation in this supposed democracy and in the wake of all of that pious talk about reforming politics and making politicians more accountable. What may turn these into more than just a sanitized and unremarkable affair may well be, as so often, the intervention of a member of the public in one of the audiences. One cunningly deployed exocet of a question could well make things more interesting. As the incumbent and the man most given to spin and statistical sleight of hand, Brown will have most to fear from someone challenging him or asking something awkward but it will be a fear for all three, it is after all the nature of politics to conceal from us what they would really rather not talk about. An already fascinating electoral contest just became a little more compelling and that has to be good for our damaged democracy.

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