Last month Michael Jeremy, director of news at ITV referred to an imminent “historic moment in both television and electoral history.” Can you guess what?
The introduction of televised debates in the 2010 General Election Campaign.
Well Michael although were not all excited as you are, it is historic in that it is a first. But ‘first times,’ do not always signify moments of national pride. I imagine these televised debates will prove this very point if Prime Minister’s Questions are rehearsals.
Every Wednesday, we are subjected to the usual tedious ‘banter;’ the latest being ‘Dave your face is like so airbrushed on those billboards!’ In PMQs there is genuine opportunity for serious although brief scrutiny of the Executive. But it is nothing short of panto politics with Dave playing the cheeky prefect and Brown the angry headmaster. Won’t these televised debates just be a re-run of PMQs?
More fundamentally, since Labour’s election in 1997, we have frequently heard the lamentation of collective decision making and ‘primus inter paras,’ demonstrable in cabinet decision making on the eve of the Iraq War. Essentially there has been concern from political commentators, that prime ministers are increasingly adopting a presidential style of decision making. This is alien to our democratic arrangment. Unlike America we do not have a clear separation of powers, and we do not vote directly for a leader. That is why we rely on the doctrine of collective responsility when Government makes crucial decisions.
The demand for televised debates indicates the disproportionate importance we are now expected to place on personality and charisma when electing our leaders. But do these attributes signify when we are considering which individuals are most qualified to represent our interests?
With a second Gulf War and a recession on our hands, I think we have sufficient drama.