Wednesday, April 29, 2009

 

Gordon Should Accept TV Debate Challenge- But he Won't

So Cameron has dared Brown to hold television debates between party leaders in next year's election. This is usually the ploy of the weaker party in such an upcoming event, the reasoning being that the stronger one has no reason to allow an opponent airtime and the assumption of equality that accompanies such a debate. On this occasion it is the stronger candidate who confidently issues the challenge: 'any time, any place, anywhere.'

The tradtional reply from the incumbent in power is that the British system allows many opportunities for party leaders to debate: for example in the Commons and PMQs. This, of course is specious. Only a handful of voters ever see debates in which Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition clash swords. And PMQs, whilst a confrontation absent from the USA, is a somewhat ritualised confrontation in the UK organised for the benefit of respective party morale and, whilst a fair number might see clips on news bulletins, only small numbers tune in to see the whole weekly event.

A second favourite excuse is that the USA has a presidential system of government where such a head to head is more appropriate but this is not wholly accurate either. Over the years the inception of the 24-7 media and dynamic prime ministers like Thatcher and Blair have seen the British system evolve into something not so very different to a 'presidential' one. A head to head debate would not be inappropriate on these grounds.

So should Gordon accept the challenge? My view has always been that a televised debate between the leaders of the two big parties, would be a real asset to democratic life in Britain. In the US it provides a much viewed opportunity to judge how the two main candidates cope with the pressure and marshall their arguments in response to questions. Televised debates would provide a genuine, democratically reviving draw during our generally dismal, lack lustre election campaigns.

But will Gordon pick up Cameron's gauntlet? No, he won't because: he knows his party is hugely unpopular; he knows it would give Cameron an enhanced chance to reach a wider audience; and he knows, from frequent flayings at PMQs and most recently the Budget debate, that Cameron more than has his measure and would most probably wipe the floor with him. But as the underdog, Brown might be advised to take him on: who knows? his much vaunted intellectual power might finally be displayed and his PMQ nemesis bested? Stranger things have happened and it could be one of the few chances left for Gordon to make any impact at all in a one sided contest.

Comments:
The other thing to say is that the Commons is a bear pit which suits Cameron's aggressive style perfectly. In front of a non-whipped audience who won't cheer him on, he might just look shrill. Brown, on the other hand, would be less likely to lose his temper (which is where he seems to invariably go wrong at the moment) and look sober, dignified and statesmanlike - which could win him a few votes. He certainly needs something to change his fortunes.
 
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