Friday, 3 April 2015
Reflections on the Election TV Leaders Debate
Around 7.5 million people tuned in to see the leaders of seven of the UK’s political parties debate the issues for the general election on 7 May. Three sevens in that sentence but who will it be lucky for?
The accepted psephological wisdom with these TV events is that that they do not have much if any impact on how people vote. The example of Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems last time soaring in post TV debates is quoted, as by the time polling day arrived, the Lib Dems were back to where they were (23%) before the debates. This time is even more unlikely to have an effect, since the having seven leaders and at this distance from polling day, all insisted upon by the Tories, will surely not buck the trend?
Although having so many on the platform did indeed dilute the event, I thought it also made it more interesting. We had a range of voices (and female ones too for a change) and the anti-austerity parties, SNP, PC and the Greens all had their say on austerity, which would have gone unchallenged by the Tories, Lib Dems, UKIP and Labour, otherwise. It turned out to be more interesting than I anticipated.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, looked a bit uneasy with the multi leader format, and although he came out around the top in the polling afterwards, I thought he looked a bit distant, he probably didn’t want to be there and it showed.
I don’t think the multi format suited Nigel Farage either and he looked less at ease than normal, he also looked a bit tired.
Nick Clegg was always on a loser really, trying to defend the indefensible of propping up the right wing agenda of the Tories, and he went largely unnoticed according to the polling.
Ed Miliband did quite well I suppose, and he does seem to be confounding the Tory, right wing media campaign against him as being ‘weak’ and ‘extreme’. Most polls afterwards put him level or slightly ahead of Cameron which Labour will be pleased about.
But the real breath of fresh air came from the women, Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Leanne Woods (PC) and Natalie Bennett (Green), not only for challenging the status quo on public spending cuts, but also breaking out from the dull men in suits trotting out the usual political ‘lines’. Sturgeon, by far the most experienced of the trio, was the star performer. Her pitch was clever, in that she not only appealed to Scottish voters but also extended a hand to the English, Welsh and Northern Irish, of cooperation on changing the bankrupt Westminster political consensus.
This is important, because the Tories and their media friends are trying portray the SNP as anti-English, in an attempt to divert attention away from policies that trash the welfare state, towards a largely non-existent enmity between the people of the four nations of the UK. This coming election is not about national independence, although UKIP certainly want to paint it that way and it suits the big parties to avoid the real issues, it is about how we want to live our lives. Do we want to carry on getting more unequal as a society or do we want a fairer and more equal one?
One interesting issue that came out in the debate, was if we have an in out referendum on membership of the European Union, should the Scots, Welsh, Irish (and English) get a separate ballot each. Of course, even if we do hold a referendum, this will not be on offer, but the marker has been put down now. I would expect, following any out vote, for the Scots to demand another independence referendum (and maybe the Welsh too), on the basis they do not want to leave. The next five years could see massive constitutional turbulence in the country.
Despite what the Tories are saying about ‘chaos’ if they are not returned to government, in fact, it looks increasingly likely that another Tory led government will break the country up, because not everyone wants what the Home Counties do.
I am hopeful that, for want of another expression, a ‘progressive alliance’ can be built after the election and we throw the divisive Tories out. This is the most promising election of recent times, an opportunity to get back to a proper kind of social democratic government. Bring it on!