Friday, April 16, 2010

Candidates Debate

(not Charlton related)

"Going to the candidates debate,
Laugh about it, shout about it,
When you've got to choose,
Every way you look at it, you lose."
(Simon & Garfunkel, 1968)

I watched last night’s election debate with great interest, being the very epitome of a ‘floating voter’.

My electoral behaviour must confound psephologists since I voted Tory as a teenager in 1992, and then switched to Labour once I had a bit of money in my pocket.

My mind had been turned when I became friends at university with a young Labour Party activist, whose bookshelves were full of weighty Tony Benn tomes.

Ironically he ended up marrying a posh sort, works as a barrister and was last seen living in leafy Buckinghamshire. It just shows you never can tell.

Last time around in 2005, I used my postal vote in favour of the Lib Dems mainly because I greatly admired Charles Kennedy’s drinking habits.

But when I consider my choice for 2010, I’m torn on the age-old question….do you vote for the party that’s best for you, or the one that’s best for the country?

Or shall I just continue to cast my vote for silly reasons, like the fact that I've a son called Cameron, and share a birthday with the Tory leader?

As a voter in his mid-30s, I'm reminded of a famous quote (often misattributed to Winston Churchill): “If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain.

But having been brought up in Michael Portillo's famous old constituency of Enfield-Southgate, I now find myself living in one of the safest Tory seats in the land (SW Hertfordshire, won with a 10,000+ majority even in 1997).

However I hate the concept of 'safe' seats. I want my MP (David Gauke) to have earned the right to represent me (although to be fair, he seems like a decent one even if he supports Charlton's former feeder club, Ipswich).

It may be 80th on the list of Lib Dem target seats, but it only requires an 8.5% swing, not so much if you think about it. I may vote Lib Dem for this reason alone.

Indeed the Lib Dem electoral map fascinates me (as do maps in general), so I'm attracted by the thought of adding another seemingly random yellow dot to it.

The Tory and Labour heartlands are predictable (rural/wealthy vs. urban/poor), but the Lib Dem seats seem somewhat haphazardly distributed.

We know their problem has always been support that is average everywhere, but not especially strong anywhere.

I've noted the fact that they seem to be strong in towns that I like very much (eg. Bath, Cambridge, Winchester, Harrogate, York). But all these places are very well-to-do, so why don't they vote Tory?

Meanwhile, what's so special about Portsmouth South, Chesterfield and Hornsey & Wood Green? All naturally Labour consituencies, yet firmly Lib Dem yellow.

However, back to the debate. The format is more suited to US-style presidential politics than parliamentary politics. The Prime Minister is selected by MPs after all, not the people.

But as a way of getting points across to a large audience, it had merits even if it's only the residents of Witney, Kirkaldy and Sheffield Hallam that have the option of voting for them individually.

During the debate, I was thinking why we only get to assess their intellectual prowess?

The electorate should also demand to assess their physical prowess, perhaps via a 'Superstars'-style competition.

David Cameron would surely win the cycling, but Gordon Brown could no doubt utilise his rugby physique to forge ahead in the squat thrusts.

I didn’t understand the need for such a well-publicised ‘hand-picked’ diverse audience, given that they weren’t allowed to applaud or add follow-up comments.

However hand-picked or otherwise, Nick Clegg’s insistence on constantly referring to the questioners by name was grating as if their identity or background was relevant.

I doubt many viewers watching at home were thinking, ”Wow, what an outstanding question – I never could have thought of that one.”

In the end, the outcome was fairly predictable. Clegg apparently ‘won’ the debate (whatever that means), but then he was always going to.

He looks the best, and given he has no prospect of being Prime Minister, he can pretty much say what he likes without ever needing to worry about putting it into practice.

Brown looks awful and speaks just as poorly, but as the incumbent he had the benefit of saying ”I did” rather than ”I will do.”

I’m sure his spin doctors have told him to try to appear more ‘human’, but the reference to ‘X Factor’ in his closing remarks was ridiculously contrived.

Paradoxically he is more impressive when just being himself ie. stoic, but with an outstanding knowledge of the facts.

Some commentators meanwhile have concluded that Cameron was the clear ‘loser’ in the debate, but again this was entirely predictable.

He’s the PM in waiting after all, so his policies have to be realistic (unlike Clegg’s) yet are inherently unproven (unlike Brown’s). Not surprisingly, he appeared rather nervous as a result.

The best his advisers could have hoped for was the avoidance of any real clangers, so on that basis alone Cameron can probably declare his evening a success too.

All three of the candidates were guilty of resorting to irrelevant ‘real life stories’, in place of the old-fashioned skill of actually putting forward arguments.

They underestimate the public’s intelligence if they think we can’t understand the challenges of say the NHS or policing, without resorting to pointless anecdotes about people we’ve never met.

As usual however, no candidate was willing to tell the public the truth about the fiscal deficit.

They are nit-picking about a billion here and a billion there, when the government was forced to borrow £160bn last year alone.

Rather than debate for example how to improve the NHS, we should be debating whether we can afford a universal health service at all.

By way of a final thought, I couldn’t help feeling rather disappointed with Alastair Stewart.

Seemingly bereft of any policies or ideas, he regularly left the stage and seemed capable solely of shouting out the names of his adversaries, as if inviting them for a fight.

He’s definitely not getting my vote.


At 1:30 AM, Blogger Phil said...

NYA, it was all very staged managed as expected even down to the choice of ties ! As the wonderful Groucho Marx once said " Those are my principles and if you don't like them... well, I have others. " nuff said !

At 8:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally i would have liked a bit more honesty.
Virtually the whole debate referred to English matters. (Stewart pointed out they were devolved) But none of the 'big three' admit England exists politically. Nor that England is the only country in the UK without it's own government or assembly, and is the only country governed wholly by the British Parliament
The whole evening gave the impression they were debating the UK. But they weren't! No one ever used the word England.
That's why none of them will get my vote.
I do agree however, Clegg won the night.


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