Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Televised Debates At Long Last
It's hard for some of us this side of the Atlantic to accept America is more democratic than we are. Left influenced perspectives offer a dominant business sector and a much more rightwing political culture in the USA. Some Brits like to think their Mother of Parliaments makes them automatically more democratic. But the USA elects both its legislature and executive and a host of offices in towns and cities which in UK are appointed. They also have primaries to select candidates, including 'open' primaries in which all voters and not just party members can participate. It's only in the voting system- first past the post- that America can chiefly be criticised for being undemocratic.
It should, perhaps, be mentioned that the knowledge base of the electorate, is miserably poor in both countries, though, in my experience, US voters appear to be even less informed than ours. The announcement yesterday however, that we will indeed have televised debates accompanying our 2010 election campaign is a step in the right democratic direction. The USA introduced such events as far back as 1960. We do take our time.
Will the debates prove pivotal? The most recent polls suggest little will deny Cameron his victory in May next year. A brief lift for Labour has been crushed by a sudden and deep fall in economic optimism amongst voters and it would be hard to see any realistic way back from here, whatever happens in the debates. There remain a number of problems to be sorted out regarding the inclusion of nationalst party leaders,and the question of policy debates betwween ministers and shadow ministers. But I see this innovation to be important for the future- it will hence-forwards become a regular feature of our elections as in the USA and other countries. In 1960 66 million watched the debates out of a 179 million population- in 2000 the it was 80million out of 226; I expect a similar mega audience for our first broadcasts.
Who will do best? Cameron is the most nimble and destructively witty but Brown has formidable strengths too in terms of his impressive policy expertise. However Cameron will probably win the 'image' contest as Gordon seriously lacks visual charisma. Clegg, gaining a huge boost by the inclusion of the often marginalised Lib Dems, and good on camera, might surprise us all. I wonder, though, how he will manage to maintain his alleged neutrality in the event of a hung parliament when his party is so close to Labour on so many issues?
The outcome may disappoint us all though. US presidential debates are often really boring and the advantage, as an American academic student of such debates tells us, lies in avoiding mistakes rather than landing knock-out blows.
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