Gale's View - 11th March 2015
Those of us, on both sides of the House of Commons, who have a ringside seat for Prime Ministers` Question Time are, I think, agreed that during the past twelve months there have been occasions when, had the contest across the Despatch Box been a boxing bout, the referee would have stopped the fight. So different has the weight of the contestants been that the match has been uneven.
On that basis I think that we have to say that a man who has gone head-to-head with Mr. Miliband and who has come out on top week after week has nothing to fear whatsoever from a confrontation under the mediation of Mr. Jeremy Paxman or somesuch on television. The idea that Prime Minister Cameron is somehow “running scared ” is, to the practised eye of a television director, no more than the kind of media hype that seeks to ramp up anticipation at the weigh-in before a title fight.
The fact is that the BBC, Sky Television, ITV and Channel 4, having had the best part of four years to prepare for pre-election television debates, made a pig`s ear of the whole process and are now trying to find a scapegoat. It was inconceivable, for example, that while one party with no sitting Member of Parliament elected in a General Election should have been invited to participate in the debate another, the Green Party, should have been excluded.
After a rapid if belated re-think the broadcasters came up with the idea that the Greens, together with the Scots and Welsh Nationalists, should be included. This, in typically crass and thoughtless fashion, excluded the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist and fourth-largest Party in the House which, not surprisingly is now more than a little aggrieved and seeking legal advice.
An exasperated Prime Minister sought to inject a little common sense into this shambles by proposing, `as a means of unblocking the logjam` one seven-party debate to be held before the start of what is now known as “the short campaign”. Even that proposal did not appear to include the Unionists and neither did it begin to satisfy the three-ringed circus demanded by television companies.
It is true, of course, that those in power have everything to lose and nothing much to gain from such an exercise – a fact that is not lost upon the broadcasters – while those, particularly minor-Party contenders, who do not gain from the benefit of incumbency clamour for television exposure that they can get.
It is also arguable that the 2010 Television debates, which turned into an “I agree with Nick” beauty contest, overshadowed the real examination of actual policy to the detriment of serious politics. Entertaining, certainly, but more to do with the cult of reality showbiz than democracy.
At the time of writing it looks as though ITV, with an eye, presumably to selling more Comparison of Markets or Breakfast Cereal advertising, may go it alone with an early all-party debate while the others are still rattling sabres and threatening to “empty chair” the man who is perceived to be spoiling their fun. By the time that you read this the game may have moved on of course.
A week ago a young lady asked me when she would receive an election leaflet. The House of Commons is still sitting and parliament does not dissolve until 30th March when the “short campaign” will commence. I suspect that, between now and polling day on May 7th, there will be more than enough radio and television coverage and billboard advertising and leafleting and canvassing interrupting the evening`s programme viewing to satisfy even the most ardent of political anoraks. For most, who will have judged their politicians not on 60 minutes of airtime but on weeks and months and years of performance, there will be a large degree of overkill. That will not, of course, deter those of us taking part in this vital election from campaigning until the last minute for every possible vote!
By the way, if as I hope, you intend to vote are you sure that, under the new system of personal registration, you are on the electoral register? Check now to avoid disappointment.