Political Promise

First Election Debate – An Alternative View

In Aaron Frazer on April 18, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Ok. This was always going to be transformational and unprecedented. But did it deliver? Well, contrary to most, I think the election debate had some severe weaknesses.

This was a strange, strange evening. As it started, the camera panned across the frightened faces of the respective leaders standing awkwardly on a stage reminiscent of a low budget 1980’s gameshow. My apprehension, already a frankly critical levels, became consuming. This wasn’t right. Brown was insane to agree to it and the both Clegg and Cameron unconvincingly pretended this was something which they sought with genuine excitement and confidence. The way all of the leaders spoke during the evening reinforced my fear that this election debate would herald the domination of style  over substance. Many of the points made, peppered with constant references to people they had met on tour (including a non racist black navy officer, a disillusioned headteacher and most bizarrely a wayward Chef etc) and made me feel like I was down the pub with my Uncle. I have never in my entire life seen three intelligent politicians resort so readily to the unverifiable quagmire of simple anecdotes. It was almost as if as an apology for the dreadful economy and the expenses saga they would reward us by exclusively using the  accessible language of the Daily Star and Talksport. At the closing statements both Clegg and Brown thanked the audience for “staying with us” over the hour and a half, with the awful implication that we are either quickly bored or easily confused (or both). In the scheme of  things, pandering to the stereotype that politics is boring and stuffy may seem rather innocuous, but it is hardly conducive to an elevated political discourse. There were however some decent points on this weird night. Policy, when it wasn’t shrouded in vague language, was, intermittently, well presented and lucid. Some ideas were even new; Cleggs proposal for The Education Freedom Act (which would ban government micro-managing the exam system and school policy) caught the eye despite a lack of detail in terms of how it would be implemented or enforced. Cameron suffered from a chronic nervous disposition and an inability to forward anything I hadn’t heard from Oliver Letwin and Iain Duncan Smith in 2003 at an event for A Level students. Some ideas like the free schools have been fleshed out, and the deficit policy, intuitively, makes sense to many. However Cameron, in the throes of an extraordinarily vigorous PR campaign with Andy Coulson and Steve Hilton ,lacked conviction. This led to him shoehorning in a worrying amount of catchphrases and soundbites.

Overall, despite a strong performance from Clegg, who balanced incsivness and aggression effectively, all the leaders understandably reacted strangely to this essentially alien process. Clarity of language,  and the smooth presentation of policy were omnipresent on that evening. However, conviction of purpose, the detailed elucidation of policy and vigorous debate were undoubtedly submerged by the slick a PR operation and the dominance of personality politics.

Aaron Frazer

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