The last few weeks have seen our politics at its lowest. Debates about who participates in television debates have made for an undignified spectacle, and are more exercises in realpolitik than the ethics of democracy.
More annoying however to this politics addict has been the notion, expressed by all sides of the divide and pundits, that television debates are somehow a sacrosanct event, part of the British constitution and crucial to the democratic process. This is absurdity. Gordon Brown only consented to them after he thought, rightly, that he had nothing to lose at that point. David Cameron extolled the virtues of them at the time, giving as they do more exposure to parties in opposition, but is now of course trying everything up his sleeve to stop them damaging him and giving Ed Miliband, himself with nothing to lose, a shot at the limelight.
Cameron is understandably weary. The debates he lobbied for did not reward him with generous dividends of electoral success, offering instead exposure to Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, damaging to Conservatives ultimately in depriving them of disenfranchised voters who saw an attractive alternative to the still toxic Tory brand.
The debates were hailed at the time for opening up the election and placing a third party in the voting public’s consciousness. All of a sudden the pretender, Clegg, was the darling of politics. This was all a charade. All the debates involved was bland sloganeering, talking up their own parties while speaking in the generality about the evils of the alternative two.
The fact that the debates opened up the electorate to an alternative party is for me at least not a ringing endorsement of them. Quite the contrary, it is a damning indictment of them and a significant section of the voting public. If buzzwords and vague promises of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ from a script are going to influence the way an individual votes, they deserve to be disenfranchised with the result. In Nick Clegg’s autumn conference speech in 2009, he spoke of the need of large reductions in public spending. A basic knowledge of politics and some light digging would also have revealed that he was on the economic right wing of the Liberal Democrats, an Orange Book Liberal. Pro-market, for less state intervention and more aligned economically with the moderates in the Conservative ranks.
That people were surprised and horrified by the ensuing Coalition, The Liberals compliance in a smaller state, austere measures, marketisation of services is more fool them. The fact that buzzwords in a debate, combined with generic disenfranchisement over Iraq, tuition fees, the voting system, and (insert concern of the pious young left) was sufficient for people to ally with them in droves without research into other policies and implications of their being kingmakers in the event of a Hung Parliament means they have what they deserve.
Looking at manifestos online, research into political history, regular reading of reputable and sensible comment pieces in the moderate broadsheets, following of the news, looking at how the party running your local authority is positively or negatively affecting your area. These are amongst the things that are voter’s responsibility to do before placing your cross next to a candidate at an election, with or without these simplistic, scripted spectacles that are not a right. Voter’s right is to educate themselves and make informed decisions about who and what they are voting for.