TV Election Debate Reveals Limited Choice
Thursday night’s British election debate proved again how few credible voices there are on the right, or centre-right, of UK politics.
The word ‘debate’ should be applied lightly here, as this BBC event consisted of four leftist leaders and only one from the right – who has no seats in Parliament.
Any disagreement tended to be about the finer points of policy as distinct from the big picture directions of government.
The Conservative leader and Prime Minister, David Cameron, chose to opt out of the discussion. Doubtless he was advised by Tory election guru Lynton Crosby that participating would only create another opportunity for the leftists in opposition to gang up on him.
Sadly, had he been present, many people from the right or centre-right of politics would still have felt that they were being woefully unrepresented (or misrepresented).
The Prime Minister may fiscally lean toward conservatism, but he is arguably more of a liberal when it comes to some aspects of social policy.
For example, many argue that his behaviour during his much vaunted ‘public debate’ about the future shape of marriage – which turned out to be a limited, internal debate – demonstrated his liberal credentials.
Arguably, David Cameron made a tactical error by not appearing last night. As soon as his spot was declared empty he was made to look like someone with something to hide. He achieved a minus score without even opening his mouth.
Whenever other leaders ran out of something constructive to say, they could at once turn their attention to the Tory leader and how he had not bothered to arrive for the ‘job interview’.
In the process, he ceded the role of potential national statesman to the only other major party leader on show, Ed Miliband. The Labour leader may not have won the overall debate – or, more properly, discussion – but by just turning up he was allowed to attempt the statesmanlike stance.
What thinking viewer could have wanted a winner on that score who has emerged victorious only by default? Especially if that winner just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to look the stateman? Mr Miliband struggles to throw off his policy-geek image and perhaps always will.
Why Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, chose not to turn up to last night’s debate is anybody’s guess.
One can only surmise that his motive was damage limitation. Perhaps his team felt that, as their party’s poll ratings are in the proverbial toilet, nobody this year was going to admit that they ‘agree with Nick’ and it was best to avoid attacks.
These defensive tactics are hardly a good sign for the nation. Apparently, a party aiming to hold the balance of power is afraid of engaging in battle with others who seek the same important role.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the smaller leftish parties – the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru from Wales – demonstrated a liking for such ideas as pursing a ‘new politics’.
Someone who is serious about national leadership should take these folks aside and inform (or remind) them that any such hope is based in fantasy.
In politics, those who talk most about a new breed of politician are usually the first to adopt age-old political methods, especially when given a sniff of real power.
This was clear even within the debate. Those who loudly advocated a new approach to politics were, in the very next breath, pushing to score points in blatantly adversarial fashion – because that’s the nature of politics.
In the midst of all this – or, rather, on the far right of it, for that’s where he was standing – Nigel Farage of Ukip connected realitively well with the audience at first, only to become increasingly irritable.
Some of his supporters would argue that this is understandable because many of his signature issues are, wherever possible, ignored by the other parties. However, irritability does not come across well on a flat screen in someone’s living room. On the small screen, passion needs to be presented as controlled conviction.
Whether or not you agree with all or any of his policies, Farage is the only party leader willing to air some problems that folks on the right consider important.
Of course, Ukip might argue that just by making a noise it has already won concessions from the major players.
Even Labour and the Tories now speak openly about the need for better management of migration, something they were loathe to do a while back.
Recently Trevor Phillips, erstwhile head of the Commission for Racial Equality and a one-time leading advocate of proactive multiculturalism, admitted that he got this wrong.
Now he says that multiculturalism is a better doctrine in theory than in practice. It can, under certain conditions, isolate people from mainstream society, forcing them into ethnic enclaves of the type that have created problems in France.
Mr Phillips, given his own experience of racism, will likely take issue with at least some of what Nigel Farage has to say on the subject. However, the latter can at least argue that what was once left-driven orthodoxy is now under review in some quarters.
So, what was the bottom line result of the most recent TV debate? David Cameron appeared weaker by virtue of his non-appearance. Ed Miliband, who never seems totally comfortable in his own skin, looked relatively confident, because he was mostly among friends.
The SNP unashamedly pitched for coalition partnership with Labour, despite the fact that Labour says it has not time for Nicola Sturgeon's desire to dismantle Britain.
On the night, Plaid Cymru and the Greens emerged without any major disasters. For them, just being given this stage was a breakthrough.
Outside of the debate, British politics features otherwise credible conservatives who sometime turn liberal, to the point of possibly, in an argument, stealing ground from avowedly liberal opponents. Meanwhile, everyone else leans decidedly to the left, with only one party waving a flag on the right – and too far right to win major support.
It’s a very limited range of choices.