Tag Archives: political parties

The TV debates or Macho ego fest

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

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Lies and Diversity

Damn Lies

Considering that we’re in the fact-free immigration summer (albeit somewhat off the agenda at the moment given Gaza, Iraq and other foreign crises), you’d think more lies on top of the heap of mendacious government spin wouldn’t make a difference. But then, there’s Iain Duncan Smith. Every time he speaks out I am horrified afresh. Despite the overbudget, overdue computer system, despite welfare sanctions harming the most vulnerable and disabled, despite the fact that his project is more ideology than reality-based – he has survived a reshuffle and sails resolutely on, the wind of self-righteousness swelling his sails.

Most recently, he doubled down on the welfare reforms, praising the “recovery” that has more jobs but lower pay, and more insecure work bolstered by zero hours contracts, some of which actually prevent people from taking on other work but offer them no guarantees for the week, so you could make money to pay the bills – or not. Who knows? Scarily, the government will make even more cuts in the next parliament.

But what drives me crazy is the fact that Duncan Smith is rarely challenged on his fantastical statistics. Thank goodness, then for Polly Toynbee (read the whole article, it’s worth it, but here’s an extract)

“Politicians may deal in terminological inexactitudes, but I can’t think of many black-is-white, war-is-peace practitioners as downright deceptive as Iain Duncan Smith. Originally, the question was whether to put it down to simple stupidity, as he didn’t understand that the numbers he promised were impossible. Yesterday, poring over his big speech on welfare reform, a few of the more polite experts spoke of his “magical thinking”. But his motives and state of mind hardly matter to the millions affected by his evidence-free, faith-based policy-making.”

Diversity Hire

As always, Hugh Muir can be relied upon to excavate the Sayeeda Warsi resignation and tease out the nub of the issue of diversity in the workplace – it’s not enough to get brown faces at the table if you don’t listen to them. Of course, that doesn’t mean you do everything they say, but if you don’t get a decent hearing, get taken seriously, or if your views are dismissed out of turn, then of course, after a while, you give up.

And that’s not just a personal loss, the organisation loses out too. The point of getting more varied voices around the table is to have a better conversation and to effect change. And for political parties it’s not just electorally expedient to do so (Janan Ganesh makes this point brilliantly in the FT), it’s morally right to better reflect the country you may govern, with all its different constituencies.

“She brought diversity to government, not just because she is brown-skinned, northern and Muslim, but because her background and experiences gave her a different worldview. Diversity has to mean something other than different hues and genders around the board or cabinet table. It is also about the infusion of different perspectives from which new options and thinking might emerge.”

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