The leaders’ debates do not enhance our democracy, they degrade it

Everyone seems to be leaping on the leader’s debates bandwagon. It rolls past me every single day.


“Cameron is a coward!”


“The public wants these debates!”


“This is about democracy!”


They call out to me. “Ben, join us, jump on the bandwagon.” To which my only reply is, “no sorry, not me, I’m gonna hang back here and dissect my own eyeballs instead”. I just cannot gather any enthusiasm, in-fact I find the whole idea of it ghastly and off-putting. I cringe at the showbiz, game show, X-factor, glitzy, quiz night, festival of sound bites, phoney outrage leaders debates filmed in front of a moronic audience in this ludicrous new crazy for shoving a completely warped and false view of British parliamentary democracy into the face’s of goggle eyed fools who can’t be bothered to do any other research, read political manifestos, study the records of the parties or learn something about their local MP but are up in arms at the prospect of our democracy being undermined by them possibly not taking place.

The broadcaster’s are acting disgracefully in their attempt to interfere in the democratic process by threatening the Prime Minister by saying they will go ahead with Cameron represented by an empty chair. One would think that a great political tradition was coming to an end rather than something that has only ever happened once before. It was inappropriate in 2010 and is inappropriate now. The broadcasters have no qualms about reducing the election to a US style presidential face-off, but this is a parliamentary democracy. We are not engaging the apathetic in the British political process but offering them a false view of what the process is and how the system works.

When you go to the ballot box you are electing your local MP, how do these debates encourage voters to engage with local issues and to learn something about their MP? They do not. They encourage people to pick a personality, a face, a performance, and to vote on a gut feeling of which individual party leader they prefer. They could very well be encouraging people to completely disengage from the actual process, voting for a leader without having any idea about their MP and the MPs’ record and future intentions for their constituency. It is important that they know something about their local representative, and these debates do nothing at all to facilitate that, in-fact they discourage it.

They do nothing to bring the political process closer to the people. In-fact they allow greater media control of the process, which I suspect is why the broadcasters are so very keen on them. It makes politics a form of entertainment which dominates the proper campaign taking place all over the country, far away from the studios. It dumbs politics down by encouraging the electorate to be swayed by the good or bad performance of an individual under pressure in a TV debate. I’m quite sure we would like our PM to have a forceful personality and some charisma, but they are not meant to be film stars, and having some good sound bites, an rehearsed arguments isn’t necessarily going to make them a good PM, or mean that the government they lead will improve the state of the nation. We want to vote for a local representative that we feel has our best interests at heart and the ability to deliver for us, and a party with a policy plan that we can believe in.

The evidence of just how inappropriate the TV debates are for Britain is damning. The presidential dynamic does not work for a parliamentary democracy with a constituency system. Hence why we have the ludicrous prospect of a debate with seven different leaders, what a shambles! Seven parties have been included but on the whims of the broadcasters the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland has not been included, why? We have the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru and now the line has been arbitrarily drawn so the DUP are not included. Peter Robindson, leader of the DUP, is right to ask“Just who do the broadcasters think they are?” They have created a mess, are attempting to skew the democratic process and force on us a circus which is a mockery of our democracy, not an improvement on it.

I have no sympathy with the PM who played the same political games that Miliband is now playing back in 2010 when he called Gordon Brown cowardly for not wanting them to take place. Therein lies something very important that we should all remember. The leaders debates are not a modern tradition that enhance democracy and must be preserved at all costs, they were the idea of Tory spin doctors. Andy Coulson pushed for these debates to happen because he thought it would push the Tories over the line. Watch the already unpopular Gordon Brown crumble in the face of the fresh-faced Tory leader winning a popularity/personality showbiz contest, they thought (they didn’t plan for Nick Clegg’s clever manipulation of the debates to make Cameron and Brown look like unreasonable, squabbling children).The integrity of British politics doe snot matter to spin doctors, it’s all about image. If you ask me, the spin, propaganda, commissars, public relations and image management are major factors in the ruination of our politics and the cynicism of the public. The leaders debates are not an antidote to this, they are a product of it.

3 responses to “The leaders’ debates do not enhance our democracy, they degrade it”

  1. june Liggins says:

    I agree to an extent with what Ben Kelly is saying when he criticizes the media and their role in the staging of these debates, however I strongly disagree that Leader’s debates are not worthwhile. Historically politicians have always been asked to stand – literally – in front of the electorate, in person, and give an account of themselves and what they are going to do to make our lives better. To call that electorate ‘goggled-eyed fools who can’t be bothered to do any other research etc….’ is offensive. The last televised TV debates drew a large audience – the last statistic I heard on this was nearly 20 million people watched and heard the debates. In the early 1990’s John Major quite literally went around the country orating from a soap-box and the electorate responded very positively to this, to the extent that he won power.

    Ben asserts that these debates make politics a form of entertainment and that they do not engage an apathetic electorate. The only reason it appears as entertainment is because it uses the medium of TV which is where we turn to for entertainment but we also use it for education too, indeed that was one of original intentions when the BBC was set up, to entertain and educate the public. I would argue that the viewing figures for the last debate suggests that the electorate was engaged. Yes it would be great if those viewing figures were reflected in the turn-out figures on voting days but the Leader’s debates can surely help by bringing political debate into the mainstream which will hopefully lead to steadily greater engagement.

    I agree that spin has not helped the political process but you only have to read Machiavelli to know that image management is nothing new in politics.

  2. Shaun Yates says:

    Love your writing style