I’m away for a while, curating Media Diversified’s Other Politics series. Check it out.
Tortured. That’s the only adjective for the ongoing negotiations over the TV election debates. This morning Radio 4 had Michael Grade (former BBC chairman) chastising the broadcasters for throwing their weight around by threatening to “empty chair” Cameron, who is refusing to engage in the format they have suggested. He’s only agreed to one debate so far, with all the parties. The head-to-head with Miliband is dead in the water.
Cameron is tactically right. I think the debates can only help Miliband seem somewhat normal and electable. The public image of him is not so great, but he appears to come across better when he talks to people. If I were Cameron’s adviser, I would also try to avoid giving him a possible “Nick Clegg 2010” moment. Also, when Cameron gets mad, he turns puce and looks petulant. There’s that. He was also right that it made no sense to have UKIP in one of the debates and no other smaller parties, who have equal or more representation nationally.
Labour’s also quite right: Cameron is running scared. They know full well they have a lot to gain and not much to lose.
The broadcasters have a point too; it would no doubt be a TV event.
But, here’s where they’re all wrong. They’re all dishonest. This has nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with ego, spin and entertainment. And it’s that sort of thing that fuels disengagement with politics.
Cameron’s insistence on including other parties was a stalling tactic. He doesn’t get a cookie* for doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Labour is so fixated on Cameron that they forgot to pretend to be pleased at the inclusion of other parties, including the Greens, their competition on the left. The broadcasters want ratings. The fact is, if this was about democracy, we wouldn’t have American-style TV debates, we would have debates on issues eg foreign policy, with the appropriate party spokesmen doing the talking. Because even though we’ve all watched a lot of West Wing, House of Cards and Veep, the fact is, we live in a parliamentary democracy so we vote for parties, not leaders. Their debate format obscures, even distorts this fact. Furthermore, is 3 minutes enough time to do anything more than give mindless platitudes and simplistic soundbites?
This is one of the most critical elections for years. Fresh off a referendum on the future of the union, we’re looking at (apparently endless) austerity. The monstering of the poor, the immigrant and whatever other scapegoats we can find. The possibility of flouncing out of the EU while marching to the beat of the UKIP drum as politicians kowtow to an aggrieved, vocal minority who bleat about being marginalised from their comfortable platforms on the BBC and the broadsheets. There is a lot in the balance. And everyone is playing macho games.
*the Scooby snack of justice
Random, I know, but this post is an ode to Acapella! Done well, it’s amazing. I think I’m also a child of a particular era – Boyz II Men, Az Yet, En Vogue – a time when strong vocals and harmonies were the thing. I’ve blogged before about Naturally 7 and Acapella (the gospel group) but today I was introduced to Pentatonix. Covering Beyonce. From Bills, Bills, Bills to present day, via all the good ones. The memories!
Funny. Labour is on the ropes, apparently, forced at every turn to deny that it would join in coalition with the SNP. It’s mischievous political reporting in my opinion, but the messaging used by the Tories in their briefings betrays an unease with the UK. Or, rather, with Scotland. The message appears to be, “Don’t ally with those people who want to tear this country apart”. So, when it’s not immigrants or the poor who are the outsiders of the day, it’s the Scots, whose democratic choices are seen as some sort of subversive plot to undermine the country. The SNP has more of a mandate than UKIP, who are deferred to as the self-appointed voice of England. Little England. A miserly, miserable, nostalgic England of moral pygmies. But hey.
The real, sobering fact shouldn’t be the prospect of a left-wing coalition, but that so many Scots feel ambivalent at best, hostile at worst, towards the UK. That so many feel that they would have nothing to lose and all to gain through independence. And is it any wonder, when the prospect of a coalition with a party that’s not in England stirs up this undercurrent of hostility, this sense that the Scots are outsiders here to rip up “our” UK? Why not build a country which offers a fair deal and a positive vision to all of its constituent parts?