We want an election not a beauty contest

Nigel Farage could well win in a leaders' debate with the other parties. But political beauty contests like that are not the British way, says Robin Mitchinson

Remember this ghastly spectacle?
Robin Mitchinson
On 7 April 2014 09:07

It is unsurprising that the Nick ‘n Nigel show has led to demands from UKIP that Farage be allowed to take place in the ‘leaders’ debates’ on TV in the run-up to the next General Election. This begs the question as to whether such a debate will or should actually happen.

Hopefully, not! We have quite enough to put up with at election time without being inflicted with this quartet. We don’t vote for ‘personality of the year’; we vote for a government.

Like many bad ideas this has been filched from the US. But there it has a point. Presidential elections are a contest between just two personalities. It is vital that Americans know more about the candidates than what is fed to them by the spin-doctors and attack ads. By and large they have tended to elect the most convincing candidate, starting with JFK vs. Nixon. The soundness of that choice was justified when Tricky Dicky became POTUS.

This is totally irrelevant to British elections. We don’t elect Prime Ministers. Of course, if once in office the PM is found to be seriously wanting there is every prospect that he will cost his Party the next election. But he is in danger of being dumped by the Party before that stage is reached.

The debates UK-style imply that we should elect the best snake-oil salesman. They puerilise politics.

The chattering classes got the Clegg vs. Farage debates completely wrong. This was not a ‘Top of the Form’ debating  contest. There was no winner or loser. It was a heaven-sent opportunity for the leaders of two minority parties to set out their stalls to a very large audience --  party-political broadcasts by other means, commercials for UKIP and Libdem.

They were on the same side. UKIP and the Libdems are not primarily in competition with one another. UKIP sees its market as the disenfranchised white working class, Maggie’s Mondeo Man whom the Labour Party has long ceased to represent, and ‘conservative’ Tories who regard the present leadership as spoilt toffs, a metropolitan elite with little experience and less understanding of life outside the Westminster cocoon, and who are devoid of political principles or conviction.

Clegg’s pitch is in the opposite direction, the former Libdem voters who deserted to Labour because the Libdems were seen as not sufficiently ‘left’, only to find that neither is the Labour Party, which is in ideological limbo.

Neither party will take many votes from each other, but whereas one is facing obliteration the other is on a roll. Both need to land the floating voter, and such is public disillusionment with politicians of all stripes that there are more than ever of them.

So will we see Nigel squaring up to Dave, Nick and Ed on SKY at peak time?

Hopefully, Dave will be sufficiently Prime Ministerial to say ‘ This is an election to choose the next Government, not a bloody beauty contest!’.

But don’t hold your breath.

Robin Mitchinson is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. A former barrister, living in the Isle of Man, he is an international public management specialist with almost two decades of experience in institutional development, decentralisation and democratisation processes. He has advised governments and major international institutions across the world

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