Election Debates: Unimportant and Outdated

Back in 2010 the British public were intrigued by this new and exciting element of campaigning in the form of televised election debates adapted from our American counterparts. Four years on and we see these debates being used for the EU Elections, the EU Presidential Elections and as part of the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign. However do these debates actually make an impact or are they just an excuse for the media to play a central role in the campaigning process?

Let’s take it back to where it all began. On the 15th April 2010, the leaders of the three main British political parties; David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg faced each other to discuss the main domestic issues handled by the government in the first of three election debates. Audiences tuned in from around the country to hear what each leader had to say and potentially determine which figure was best to run the country. However when it actually came down to the vote in May it seemed that these television debates made little impact on the result. From the first debate it was clear that Nick Clegg came out as the frontrunner, going in as a complete underdog, however when the election came around the Liberal Democrats ended up losing seats as opposed to actually making a positive difference. You could argue that he would have never have become deputy Prime Minister without the performance he gave at the debates, yet in reality it just seems that the British public were simply unsure of what exactly they wanted on the day.

If we look at the EU Presidential election debates from this year it simply homes in on the argument that these debates are becoming increasingly unimportant in the eyes of the electorate. The reason for this is that they are no longer seen as this new thing but just another component of the same campaigning tools used by politicians to try and entice us to vote for their party. Back in May the five contenders for the EU’s Presidential position appeared in Brussels to discuss the key issues surrounding European politics. The BBC on its Parliament channel broadcasted this debate, yet despite no official figures being released I can safely say that it is unlikely that many of the British electorate even knew that it was taking place let alone actually tuned in to the coverage. Granted British interest in European politics is generally abysmal to put it nicely, however considering this debate was deemed to be the great European debate I doubt that many of us were interested enough to tune in to yet another political debate. The novelty has simply worn off.

With the 2015 General Election the next big event coming up and televised debates in the running as part of the election campaign, I would be surprised to see viewing numbers anywhere near the amount from the 2010 election. The Prime Minister has said that the 2015 election debates are likely to take on a different format, however in reality they will just be another debate between the senior politicians trying to make their voice heard. It is highly unlikely that the debates will actually make much of a difference to the election result but looking at the present political situation who knows?