Friday, April 16, 2010

The Leaders Debates: Ninety Minutes In The Company Of The Small And The Weird

I found the much-trumpeted Leaders' Debate on Domestic Issues rather dreary last night. Anybody well-versed in the arguments of the three main political parties probably would have done, as they only trotted out all the things they've been saying on the campaign trail already. What I was watching for, I suppose, was to see how they interacted; what they were like face to face without the pantomime elements of Prime Minister's Questions obstructing any meaningful analysis of the men themselves. But I was pretty disappointed.

Gordon Brown, of course, is famously dour. He can't help it. He looks, permanently, as if he's just come back from a funeral. David Cameron, to me, resembles a senior estate agent. He's slick, but the polish is just beginning to wear off because he's been in the game too long; and even when he tells you his name is David Cameron you suspect him of insincerity. Nick Clegg is liked by a lot of people I know but he looks physically small, and so clean and well-scrubbed he might be a schoolboy let in on the debate for practise. He is also, it seems to me, a poor orator. A lot of what he said last night might be true, or at least persuasive, but he phrased it in such woolly, imprecise, cliched language I was quite shocked to see the first polls after the debate had him coming out ahead. Who are you out there, English voters? What drugs are you taking?

David Cameron showed a strange lack of conviction for somebody who shouts his face off like a pretentious fishmonger every week at PMQs. Obviously somebody had told him to keep calm so that he looked "prime ministerial". The net effect, however, was to make him look as if he'd taken heavy tranquilizers to calm his nerves before the show. He made a couple of remarks that may have been intended as jokes during his speeches, but they fell flat with the invited audience. There was not a murmur of approval. Or disapproval, for that matter. The same was true of Gordon's gags. Mr. Brown had obviously been told to smile a lot to counter the impression the public had that he was permanently miserable, but he should have resisted the temptation; or at least smiled only when he was actually amused, as he seemed to be smiling at almost everything for the whole ninety minutes of the broadcast. And his smile only makes him look worse. It is a kind of leer straight out of the graveyard.

The overall impression of the three men, therefore, was that they were all equally unimpressive, if not downright odd, which is a little disappointing given that one of them will be running the country in a couple of weeks. And the debate, so-called, consisted mainly of name-calling, even when it came to Afghanistan. The friends I watched the show with came away from it with their pre-broadcast intention to vote Liberal Democrat unchanged and I came away from it still planning to vote Labour, albeit with the reservations every intelligent person should have about a vote cast for any political party. But if that pattern was repeated in households across the country you can't help wondering what the point of it was.

If these men are the best this generation can offer to the country you can't help wondering what happened, either. Where are the firebrands? Where are the orators? Where are the ideals that drive men and women of conscience into public office? Whatever happened to the Foots, the Benns, the Bevans, and yes, the Thatchers (much as I loathed her)? David Cameron doesn't even have the style to be crazy, like she did all those years ago, as she stomped around ripping our country to pieces.


BRUCE'S DAD said...

Good summary, Bruce. There's one further point that few people seem to have picked up on in the near-hysterical press reaction to Clegg's sudden rise in the polls after the so-called debate.
Has British politics descended to such a pathetic state that the shape of the Commons will be decided on how an individual comes over on television?
Why don't we just do a full X-factor job on it, run by that dreadful Cowell man? If people really are as shallow-minded as seems to be the case we could get the whole thing over in a couple of tv shows and the British people would get the government they deserve.
Meanwhile, I think I'll return to France, a country I loved living in and being part of until I made the mistake of returning to the UK a few years ago. There, as in most European countries, politics are treated most seriously by politicians and populace alike.
Witnessing elections there was truly enlightening compared with the way it is done in (once) Great Britain.

Bruce Hodder said...

Yes, we are getting into a worrying new phase in British politics when a leader can get that sizeable a boost in his poll ratings just because he looked clean and spoke less crap than David Cameron on a tv debate. I know the debate helped him to some extent beause casual observers haven't had a real chance to look at the Lib Dems before, given the concentration of media coverage on Labour and the Tories; but 14% or whatever it was is ridiculous. People are talking about Clegg as if he's a combination of a philosopher and sex god. I see no evidence of either, personally, and apparently when you look at the Lib Dem promise to take really low earners out of taxation, those at the absolute bottom of the pile won't benefit at all. I'm not sure why that is -- Andrew Neill was grilling a Lib Dem spokesman about on tv late last night -- but there's sleight-of-hand in their numbers and their manifesto, just as there is in everybody else's.

You sound so much like me with your X-Factor suggestion and your evident disdain for popular culture. Long may you run. Somebody told me the other day that the reason people wanted to get rid of all the Muslims and Poles they believed were swamping the UK was to protect the British culture they were destroying. I said I didn't think there had been such a thing as British culture since Margaret Thatcher came to power, degregulated everything, sold off all our industries, made profit the only morality and mortgaged the soul of the nation to Rupert Murdoch. So I can understand your preference for France. I've only been there once but I loved it.