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PM has nothing to fear from TV debates

Gale’s View
by your MP Sir Roger Gale

Those of us, on both sides of the House of Commons, who have a ringside seat for Prime Minister’s Questions are, I think, agreed that during the past 12 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 Labour leader Ed Miliband and who has come out on top week after week has nothing to fear whatsoever from a confrontation on television.

The idea that Tory Prime Minister David 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. After a rapid, if belated, rethink, 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 Unionists 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 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 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 while those, particularly minor-party contenders, who do not gain from the benefit of incumbency clamour for all the 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. At the time of writing it looks as though ITV, with an eye presumably to selling more comparison site 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. Parliament does not dissolve until March 30, when the “short campaign” will commence. I suspect that, between now and polling day on May 7, there will be more than enough coverage 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!

Herne Bay Gazette, March 12th 2015


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