Letdown of a debate; Channel 4 does personality politics; Politician version 2.0
I finished my last post on Thursday afternoon expressing my excitement about the first televised leaders debate that was to take place that evening. My enthusiasm even led me to get the time wrong, arriving at Andy Brown's to watch this historic moment an hour early. My over-punctuality, however, turned out for the better as the three episodes of Fonejacker we fitted in whilst Corrie laid down the teatime gauntlet for Messrs Brown, Cameron and Clegg, proved exponentially more entertaining than the tedium that was the main event. And I'm not even a fan of Fonejacker.
The first issue was immigration, a topic on which each leader sought to appease the supposed xenophobe in all of us with a truly nauseating, tougher-than-thou approach. Internet hero Joel Weiner's question on our 'education' system was given short shrift and all three offered similar responses on the issue of crime. Indeed, agreement was the broad theme of the evening with only some petty bickering on the economy between Brown and Cameron, and the Liberal Democrat's pledge to scrap the renewal of Trident demarcating any differences between the three. What the debate went to show was that what clear water there is between the three main parties is but small, shallow puddles on an island of crackdowns on immigration, slashed public spending and policy justification by anecdote.
Nick Clegg has been roundly acclaimed as the winner- a result that has caused somewhat of a media storm around the Lib Dems- yet this is more due to the fact that much of the public were previously unaccustomed with him. With the leaders failing to lock horns on policy, judgements have been made based on performance. Clegg has been acclaimed for his ability to talk straight down the camera to the viewer at home, like an X-factor contestant pleading for the nation to keep them in the competition. Cameron came across as confident and the fact his biggest gaffe is considered to be his story of the black man he met who supposedly joined the Navy aged 10, rather than his categorising China as a potential nuclear threat to a peaceful world, shows how style and delivery are coming under more scrutiny than substance. The hapless Gordon Brown continued to place his sporadic, strained smiles at inopportune moments, such as when being criticised by the others, and remains derided by many corners, not as a political lightweight, but simply as socially-inept.
And here lies the problem. As I sat down for some dinner before heading to the pub on Friday night I was watching Channel 4 news. Halfway through, Jon Snow finished the proper news and handed over to Krishnan Guru-Murthy to present a 'policy free' examination of the three candidates called Britain's Next Boss. The show consisted of three experts- James 'Dragon's Den' Khan, Ruby 'not funny' Wax, and a man, who looked like the kind of guy to be selling you stolen watches in an East End pub, but was in fact referred to as a business psychologist- watching selected clips of Brown, Cameron and Clegg on the campaign trail and then commenting on their team-work/decision making/ genuineness. Here's Gordon Brown with some cabinet members- does this show he's a good team-player? Here's Nick Clegg turning one way out of a room but then going the other- does this show he's indecisive? Here's David Cameron pretending to be mates with some factory workers- does this show he's not genuine? It was an example of the complete dominance of personality and style over policy in modern politics.
This is part of the reason why Gordon Brown is so detrimental to the Labour party at the moment, to the point that he barely figures on most candidates literature. No doubt many people have reservations about the way Labour, under Blair and Brown, have presided over the country, but a lot of people simply see the latter as socially awkward and find it difficult to relate to him. What they want is the socially confident (thanks to a public school and Oxbridge education), forty-something male, with attractive wife and kids in tow. Think Cameron, think Clegg, think David or Ed Miliband. Whilst for a lot of people the UK's political landscape is a dull, monotonous scenery, we risk moving towards a state where the people who inhabit it reflect this, as over-coached, PR savvy, clones. The media persona's of Clegg and Cameron are virtually indistinguishable. Get used to it because there's more of the same coming.