Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The big telly debate

Just want to catch up on a few things I would have written about in the last few days had I not been having my break from the web. It's a bit late I know but I wanted to have my say about the stupendous, amazing breakthrough our democracy will undergo if the leaders of the three main Parliamentary parties have a slanging match on TV.

The first thing to say is all but a handful of people in this country will get to vote for the leaders of the parties, so having a Presidential-style debate without having a Presidential system does jar a little. Everyone in the US could vote for McCain or that other guy, so when they spoke to the nation it helped people choose - our system is far more mediated, where you may be voting in a constituency where the party of your choice is represented by a candidate you dislike - or vice verse.

Secondly, it's bizarre that members of the main three parties seem to be describing SNP and Plaid attempts to be included in these debates as whinging. In Scotland and Wales they are not bit players but real political forces that accrue votes that parties like the Conservatives can only dream of. Excluding them from the debates will *help* their vote by reinforcing with the electorate that the three *London* parties don't want regional voices to be heard.

Brown droning on won't win a quarter of the votes for Labour that the SNP will accrue from the propaganda coup they've been handed by the attempt to exclude them, whether or not they get in there in the end. Just to be clear the SNP and Plaid thrive off every example of complacency on behalf of the Westminster consensus. As long as they make a show of kicking up a stink about being excluded the Lab/Lib/Con pact has made their argument that these are not really parties that put Scotland or Wales first for them.

No amount of pretending will eradicate the actually existing activist and voter base these parties have. That cannot be reversed by what most voters will see as a dull politics programme.

What about the Green Party though?

When it comes to the Greens, well, I'm in no great hurry to see us on the platform, although I have every confidence in Caroline Lucas that should she be invited onto such a debate she'd crush all opposition and delight in the weeping of their loved ones as she glories in their freshly spilled blood. These debates are to the death, right?

Being on the debate actually would help us in those areas where we struggle to maintain a profile. In those areas where we have few members we would benefit from the extra profile. In other areas, like Norwich, Oxford, Lewisham and Brighton we have electoral machines that do the work on the ground and being excluded from that kind of debate could, in a funny way, help us.

For example, in Brighton we've just had a poll showing the Greens well in the lead, a fair amount of that support is coming from people who want a break from the cosy Parliamentary consensus of war, privatisation and cuts. In these areas we don't need a barely watched TV debate to make our mark on the electorate but being excluded will only reinforce our status as an alternative because we have a base of support to work on.

Sadly in the areas where we're less strong one of our big problems is that people a) often haven't heard of us or b) think we're not serious. So if I wanted to take a purely sectional approach it's still six of one and half a dozen of the other as being excluded does help us achieve our first ever MPs even if it's sad for the local parties below the handful of very strong areas.

However, from a democratic point of view it's terrible. I'm particularly excised about the exclusion of the SNP and Plaid because their relative weight in the regions means that for the millions of people who live in these regions the debates will be meaningless, providing them no insight into the choices before them at the election.


James Mackenzie said...

Jim, a cogent analysis as (almost) always. One my Nat chums would enjoy reading.. right up to the point where you call Scotland a region!

Jim Jepps said...

Hehe! It shows how Anglocentric I am that I didn't even think about that... mind you they might take some comfort that I think of the UK as a region as well... essentially I'm relaxed about national borders in general - not the rights of people to govern themselves the way they wish.

I certainly do regard Scotland and Wales as nations and would support independence if that was the will of the people of those regions :)

Anonymous said...

I'm exercised about that too and to be honest its something my party (Lib Dems) should be saying more about because we shouldnt let dillusions of grandeur impact us stadning up for basic democracy.